Like so many of us in our youths, the scary stories our parents told us about before bedtime somehow always resonated with extra emotion. And like many of us in our adult lives, myths about what you could and should do always linger… and the legend of the ice bath prevails. Have you ever tried an ice bath after a workout? How about an ice bath a day? I dare to bet that most of you have only tried it once… and that was it. But what does an ice bath do? Does it actually have healing properties or is it just an excuse to make viral videos?
The basic science of it is actually rather simple: after a tough workout, muscle soreness takes its toll and muscle pain will come either directly or 72 hours after a workout. This cause is known as Microtrauma, which are mini tears in the muscle fibers. Ironically enough, this is the Golden rule for improving at the gym because it stimulates the muscle cell activity. This is the essential process of muscle growth: have muscles, use muscles, break muscles, repair muscles, have bigger muscles and on and on. After this occurs (known as muscle hypertrophy), scientists have been researching an infinite amount of medicinal recoveries that may help improve the speed of recovery in muscles.
So what happens when you immerse yourself in ice?
Research has shown that Cryotherapy (Cold therapy) can:
Constrict blood vessels & flush waste products (like lactic acid)
Decreases metabolic activity
Slows down physiological processes
Reduces muscle swelling
Reduces muscle tissue breakdown
After you come out of the cold water, it is believed that during rewarming, the increased blood flow speeds up blood circulation. Kind of like, plugging out the power source and plugging it back in, a restart. The contraction and slowing down of physiological processes is believed to unbalance the body and thus switch into repair mode right after the workout. Cool right? Right. But only if it actually works. A recent study looked to answer: Can Water Temperature Influence Muscle Soreness? Comparing the effects of recovery. After nine studies were conducted it was found that Cryotherapy has a more positive effect on recovery compared to rest alone. It was found that the best effects take place in water of between 10-15 degrees for a duration of approximately 10 minutes. Nothing more, nothing less.
However, there are many who strongly oppose the idea of ice therapy, simply because of the misinterpretation in scientific data. Cryotherapy will not save your life, nor will it suddenly release all the muscle pain you are feeling. Like many aspects of life, consistency is the only thing holding its usefulness together. And here’s why: it’s no secret that cold-packs numb an injured body part. Acting as anesthesia, scientists argue that the numbing of muscle soreness directly after a workout actually halts the stimulus required for muscle growth. Because it works your muscles immediately, it cuts out the long-term gains, hindering your natural body reactions. Like if you shampoo your hair every day, it will actually begin destroying the routine of natural oils in your hair. If you ice too often, or at the wrong moment it can counter-effect. What was found on the opposing side is that there are other processes we mustn’t forget about what remains important in muscle soreness recovery. And even though Cryotherapy can be useful to you, there are other things you CANNOT forget to do if you encounter muscle pain.
Always complete the MACHO routine when injured:
Mobilization: Walk it off.
Activation: Stretch before & after a workout.
Compression: Wrap an injured body part in tight wrapping.
Hydration: Drink a few extra glasses of water when injured.
Observe: Keep a mental note of your pains, if you pay attention you’ll eventually understand your body.
Practical application: TRY THIS
Begin by keeping a mental routine of your workouts and begin measuring the intensity. Are you increasing intensity on certain days? Which exercises lead to most muscle soreness? If you just had an intense workout, will you follow another intense workout in the near future? By asking yourself these questions you are already half-way to analyzing whether Cryotherapy works for you. The more strain you feel from workouts, the more effective it will be.
So the recommendation is: Take 1 minute cold shower after an intense workout.
Try the method, start it slow and keep it consistent. There’s no point in jumping into an ice bath unprepared. Like most things, it takes time to take hold. Your body needs to get used to the process. Try this method for the next month, create your own schedule however you want: once a week, once a day, only after workouts and whichever method you may choose, stick to it for 4 weeks. And by the end of it, you will know exactly if Cryotherapy is your thing.
So here we find ourselves at the end of the page. Cryotherapy is an option that could work for you, but if you never try it with full purposes you will never know the true answer to whether it works for you or not. The reason most of the top athletes believe it works well is because of its immediate effect. It causes the muscles to relax and reduce swelling. Physically but also mentally speaking, this brings a sense of immediate tension-release effective for the short-term gain. Now, since these athletes train every day the immediate quick effects an ice bath gives, is useful. As they will be able to prepare for their next workout the next day.
However, if you only workout once a month and try Cryotherapy on and off in that month the effects will be minimalistic. It’s all interpreted in your exercise routine, the more consistent the workout the more beneficial Cryotherapy will be. Consistency is key and the effects of these research-based methods only take hold once its found a reliable routine in your week. If you feel yourself facing a lot of muscle pain throughout the week while trying to keep a consistent weekly exercise routine, ice therapy will save you the time needed to recover for this weeks workout.