After an intense training session, hardcore workout, or endurance race, it’s super common to see athletes throwing themselves into a frigid ice bath. But while ice baths are a great way to cool off, athletes endure the intense cold for several other benefits that can enormously help with post-workout recovery.
An ice bath after workout sessions is a great way to soothe tired muscles, reduce aches and inflammation, and promote recovery. Ice baths offer psychological benefits, too, improving your state of mind and sharpening your mental reflexes!
To help you with your post-workout recovery routine, here are the top ice bath benefits you can gain by taking a plunge into cold water!
Why do athletes take ice baths?
Ice baths aren’t for everyone. Even after long runs or intense workouts, the idea of an ice-cold bath can be too stressful for some. It takes nerves of steel to deliberately place your body into icy water - your body and mind want to fight back against the trauma of this cold environment!
But there is a perfectly rational reason why athletes endure ice bath recovery after heavy workouts. Just like placing an ice bag on head injuries to soothe the pain, jumping into an ice bath has several well-documented benefits for both the body and mind.
In athletics, an ice bathtub session is commonly known as Cold Water Immersion or Cryotherapy. There’s a science behind the process - it’s not merely a case of filling a cold tub with ice and jumping in. Ice bath times and temperatures are super important.
So, what do ice baths do that is so attractive to athletes? Athletes commonly take ice baths for the following reasons:
- Soothing aches, pains, and sore muscles
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing the risk of injury
- Improving post-exercise recovery times
- Boosting metabolism and enhancing weight loss
- Boosting immune system
- Conditioning the mind and body towards stressful situations
- Improving mental sharpness
- Improving sleep patterns
- Decreasing the effects of heat and humidity on the body
Ice bath benefits: what’s the science?
To reap the full benefits of ice baths, athletes need to immerse themselves in freezing water for no less than 6 minutes and no longer than 15 minutes for experienced athletes.
The target temperature of ice water in the tub needs to be between 50°F and 59°F for the best results (yes, an ice tub needs to be cold!) If your water is warmer than this, you likely won’t reap the full benefits of this practice. Temperatures colder than this can be dangerous for your body.
The primary reason to jump into an ice-cold tub is to reduce the pain that comes after an exhausting workout. This can be muscle pain or muscle fatigue; it can be aching bones, sore feet, or inflamed limbs.
Remember that you build muscle by tearing and ripping the old muscle to grow back bigger and stronger, technically causing minor injury. An ice bath soothes your body in the same way that an ice pack soothes an injury. The ice reduces swelling and inflammation and numbs the pain. Ice cold temperatures stop the pain from spreading, thereby allowing you to recover in more comfort.
Improving recovery time
Reducing swelling and inflammation allows your body to recover quickly after an intense training session. By reducing inflammation, your body spends less energy on its immune response and more time rebuilding muscles. Importantly, this also helps to reduce the risk of injury after an intense workout.
Improving recovery times helps you get back to peak form much quicker than if you didn’t take the ice bath, ensuring you can compete sooner or hit the training even harder next time.
Boosting your metabolism
Ice baths also help boost your metabolism, thereby allowing you to burn off more calories due to your workout. With improved metabolism, you’ll continue burning calories long after you’ve stopped exercising. An improved metabolism will help you to lose unwanted weight and can help you reach training goals quicker.
Improving and conditioning your mental state
For many athletes, the psychological benefits of an ice bath are just as significant as the physical benefits.
The sudden shock of entering a cold environment conditions the body and the mind to react to stressful situations better. This mental conditioning helps to promote a calm outlook that deems itself useful when faced with stressful conditions in the future.
Ice baths also help the mind to remain sharp and astute. It’s well known that a cold shower shocks the body and can help you wake up in the morning. An ice bath offers the same conditioning, and you’re likely to remain more alert for longer once you’ve taken an icy plunge.
Are there health risks to taking an ice bath?
If you’re using your clear ice maker at home and pouring cold water for an ice bath, then there are a few risks you should take into consideration first. Ice baths are generally only taken by serious athletes, but as long as you take into account the temperature and the timing of your bath, you can take one at home, too.
As we already noted, temperature and timing are critical if you’re using ice baths for workout recovery.
- Keep the temperature between 50 to 59°F.
- Stay in for no longer than 10 minutes.
- If you are not used to ice baths, cut this time down to 6 minutes to begin.
You can check the temperature of the ice bath using a thermometer. If you’re taking the plunge after an intense race or workout session, we always advise that you have a supervisor on hand.
If you have pre-existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure or a heart condition, then consult your doctor before attempting any form of cold water immersion therapy.
Ice bath benefits: Will you take the plunge?
Setting up an ice tub and ensuring you can safely take a frigid plunge is serious business. So it’s often only serious athletes that take the time to endure this sort of post-workout recovery regime.
However, even if you only want to try it out once a week or once a month, you can still gain plenty of excellent benefits by taking an icy plunge. Ice baths can not only help with recovery and avoiding injury, but they can help you to sharpen your mental state and improve your physical and mental well-being.
They’re cold, but we’d say it’s well worth taking a plunge! Why not bookmark our guide to ice bath benefits so that you can improve your post-training recovery?