How to optimize your training with ice baths.
The fascination with ice baths among top-tier athletes is no mere trend; it's a science-backed practice that has found its place in the core of their training regimens. Whether it's the indomitable Serena Williams or the lightning-fast Usain Bolt, athletes across the sporting spectrum have embraced the therapeutic power of submerging themselves in frigid waters after an intense workout or competition.
In this article we dive into the training advantages of ice baths, the optimal timing to maximize the benefits as well as its suitability for different sports.
- Why do athletes do Ice Baths?
- The Effect of Ice Baths on the Body. Science explained.
- Ice Bath and Training. The Optimal Plan.
- Timing and Duration.
Why do athletes do Ice Baths?
Ice Baths are the go-to strategy for athletes during recovery. Here’s why:
- Cold Water Immersion (CWI) reduces Inflammation levels.1 Among many other health benefits, decreased inflammation levels support the body’s natural healing processes, boost tissue recovery, improve joint health, reduce swelling, improve emotional balance and decrease the risk for chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, certain cancers and neurodegenerative disorders.
- CWI boosts blood circulation in the body resulting in better transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.2 Oxygen and vitamins play crucial roles in the process of muscle recovery and repair. Oxygen helps to deliver nutrients, including amino acids, into the muscles, supporting the synthesis of new proteins necessary for muscle growth and repair. Without sufficient oxygen supply, the muscles may rely on less efficient energy production pathways, leading to fatigue and decreased performance.
- CWI triggers hormones which are responsible for relaxation and mood boost.3 The body’s stress response to an ice bath triggers the release of hormones which contributes to feelings of relaxation and well-being. Learn more about those hormones in the next section.
In short: ice baths serve as a bio-hacking tool utilized to accelerate the recovery process, enhance post-performance well being and reduce the time it takes to return to training.
1 "Cold Water Immersion: Kill or Cure?" (2017)
2 “Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water - a continuing subject of debate.” (2022)
3 “Improved mood following a single immersion in cold water” (2021)
The Effect of Ice Baths on the Body. The Science explained.
What happens to the body when you immerse yourself into the cold water? It feels cold or hot, at that moment it is hard to name those sensations. But which parts of the body are actually affected by the cold? Here we explain what physically happens to the body.
When you immerse yourself into the cold, your blood vessels are constricted, reducing blood flow to muscles and decreasing inflammation in the body.4
Cold Water Immersion slows down your metabolic rate. This also reduces the production of metabolic waste products, such as lactic acid, accumulated during intense exercise.5
The cold temperature of ice baths numbs nerve endings. Therefore it decreases pain sensations in the body.6
Ice baths trigger a stress response in the body, leading to the release of certain hormones and proteins that aid in the recovery process. This can also contribute to a psychological feeling of well-being and relaxation.7
4 Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. (2012)
5 Effect of cryotherapy on muscle soreness and strength following eccentric exercise. (2007)
6 The effect of cryotherapy on nerve conduction velocity, pain threshold and pain tolerance. (2007)
7 The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. (2017)
Which hormones are released during an ice bath? 8
Among other hormones and proteins, Ice Baths trigger the release of Norepinephrine and Endorphins.
Norepinephrine= a stress hormone that plays a role in regulating blood pressure, heart rate and the body’s response to stress.
Endorphins= a natural pain-relieving and mood-enhancing hormone.
Ice Bath and Training - The Optimal Plan.
When is the best time to go into the ice? And how long should you stay? Here’s what current research says about optimal timing and duration of ice baths.
Many people ask whether it is better to go into the ice before a workout or after a workout. The answer is, it depends. You want to base this decision on your training goals. If your goal is to build muscles, strength and endurance, it is best to go into the ice either shortly before the workout (approx. 20 minutes) or wait at least 1-2 hours after your workout.
Why not go earlier? If you go into the ice bath directly after a workout, some processes that are required for muscle growth might be impaired by immersing yourself into the cold:
1. Reduced Inflammatory Response 9
A certain degree of inflammation is necessary for muscle repair and growth. As ice baths decrease inflammation levels, going into the ice directly after a workout is not beneficial for muscle growth.
2. Impaired Protein Synthesis 10
Muscle Protein Synthesis is another crucial process for muscle repair and growth. Cold Water Exposure decreases the synthesis of proteins in muscles which limits their growth.
3. Disrupted Hormonal Balance
Immersion in cold water can potentially disturb the hormonal response essential for muscle adaptation. Cold Water Exposure has been associated with decreased levels of anabolic hormones including insulin-like hormones and testosterone, which are essential for muscle growth and development.
The optimum duration of ice baths is a widely discussed topic among researchers. In order to find the ‘sweet spot’ several factors have to be taken into consideration, including temperature of the water and the individual body’s reaction.
Wim Hof, also know as “The Iceman” suggests starting with immersing yourself into the ice between 5-10 minutes. Once your body becomes more accustomed to the cold you can increase the duration
At what duration can ice baths become dangerous?
According to an article from Scientific American, people can stay in the water for 10 to 20 minutes before they experience loss of coordination and strength, which is the first sign of hypothermia. For safety purposes, its is recommended to limit your time in the ice tub to shorter intervals (apx. 2-10 minutes, depending on the water temperature), followed by a brief rest in warmer conditions and then repeating the cycle.
Ice bathing can significantly improve your performance in sports. Especially during the recovery phase you will feel the benefits, it is shortened and also painless. Since everyone's body reacts differently to cold (and this resistance can be trained) it is best to listen to your body. Don't skip the warm-up if you're going to ice before your workout, if you're going to ice after your workout, wait a few hours.
Looking for a place to do your ice baths in Mexico City? Visit us at Studio90.