Q: Do ice baths really work?
Those of you training for an upcoming full or half marathon should be putting in some long runs that tax your muscles. Ice baths are a great way to help aid in recovery from a hard workout. The problem is many runners have a hard time getting use to slipping into a tub of ice water. While soaking in an ice bath can be challenging, there are certainly benefits.
If you’ve ever had a particularly tough workout, you know that it can take a day or two to feel the full impact on your tired, sore muscles. This is usually caused by “delay onset muscle soreness” (DOMS). Basically, when you train hard or long you are breaking down the fibers in your muscles, causing small micro-tears. Your body repairs these muscle tears and builds more muscle, as long as you provide your body adequate nutrition and rest.
This is where the ice bath comes in. An ice bath helps decrease the inflammation and the leaking of waste products into the spaces between your muscles. This allows your legs to be ready for another hard effort more quickly, within a couple of days. This benefit can make a few minutes of soaking in ice water worth the cold shivers.
Ice Bath Tips
1. Fill a cooler with 10-20 pounds of ice and put it next to your tub.
2. Fill your tub with tepid water enough to cover your legs. Add a pool thermometer to check your tub temperature.
3. OPTIONAL: If you really hate cold water, put a sweatshirt on before getting in the tub.
4. Get into the tub making sure your legs are covered with water.
5. Start adding ice to the tub. As you tolerate the drop in temperature, continue to add more ice.
6. Try to get the temperature between 55-58 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Soak for 10-15 minutes total; 6-8 minutes of that time should be between 55-58 degrees.
8. Enjoy a recovery drink to start the refueling process.
To get the full benefits of ice baths, add them to your recovery routine. You don’t need an ice bath after every workout, but you should ice down after your long-run days, at a minimum. If you have the time, ice down after your other key workouts like speed, hill repeats or tempo runs.
John Ruibal, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered dietitian and is boardcertified in sports nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He coordinates the distance running classes available at both iRun Texas locations in San Antonio. He has been running for more than 40 years and coaching for 25. To connect with John or learn more about his classes, visit www.iruntexas.net.