ice bath, physicool, cold water therapy

Taking the chill out of an ice bath


There are several recovery benefits thought to be achieved by plunging into a ice bath after strenuous exercise. Muscle recovery is essential, especially when training to high-intensities or when successively competing day-in-day-out.ice bath, physicool, cold water therapy

Ice baths are commonly used to speed up recovery, reduce muscle pain and relieve soreness, and increase successive performance. Many athletes including Paula Radcliff have been very outspoken about ice baths –  “absolute agony”. As the entire lower body is immersed in icy water for up to 15 minutes you run the risk of freezing off your much loved extremities. There is an alternative. Applying a Physicool cooling bandages offers substantial localised cooling without the need for water and freezing ice. More on this later, let’s first explain the science and research conducted on the use of cooling therapy/ice baths.

The science

The theory behind ice baths is related to the fact that intense exercise causes micro trauma – tiny tears in muscle fibres. This leaves the muscles feeling painful and sore.

Benefits of ice baths and Physicool in recovery:

  • Improve blood circulation to help remove waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve muscle activation
  • Reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Pain)
  • Improve next day training ability
  • Allow optimum fuel recovery
  • Overall improved muscle function

Also, once Physicool or ice has been removed, the area will start to warm up increasing blood flow and circulation, bringing blood to the area and in turn, improving the healing process.

Scientific research

In 2007, a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at the effect of ice baths on DOMS after intense leg press exercise. The study found a smaller reduction, and faster restoration, of strength and power in athletes using ice baths compared to passive recovery.

In 2008, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found ice baths to help recovery following short maximal efforts, or during stage races where athletes repeat high-intensity efforts on successive days. Within the study cyclists completed a week of intense daily routines using one of four post-workout recovery methods. The four recovery methods included:

  1. 14 minutes immersion in a 15 degrees C ice bath
  2. 14 minutes immersion in a 38 degrees C hot water bath
  3. 14 minutes alternating between cold and hot water every minute
  4. 14 minutes rest.

The study reported that the cyclists performed better in the sprint and time trial after taking an ice bath and contrast water therapy. The study also showed a decline in performance after hot water baths and complete rest.

In a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, athletes ran on three occasions, each time running at a sub maximal effort level before and after a 15 minute interval:

  1. Before and after a 15 minute interval in a ice bath at a temperature of 8 degrees C
  2. Before and after a 15 minute Interval in a ice bath at a temperature of 15 degrees C
  3. Before and after a 15 minute rest, no ice bath

Post interval the athletes had to run for as long as they could sustain. The runners managed the longest duration following the 8 degrees C  ice baths (+4 minutes), followed by the 15 degrees C ice bath (+3 minutes). When the runners rested without an ice bath in the interval their time to exhaustion was much shorter.

The verdict

Ice baths have shown to greatly reduce swelling and soreness post-exercise, speed up recovery and increase successive performance. However overuse could limit muscle growth as post-exercise swelling is part of the process that leads to muscle repair and strengthening. By habitually taking ice baths to limit swelling, you may not get the full benefit of the exercise. Athletes should limit ice baths or post-work out cooling to when the swelling and soreness is exceptionally painful or when you need to return to top form as soon as possible.

Physicool has proven to lower the local body temeperature by up to 21 degrees C without needing to plunge yourself in a freezing ice bath. Physicool is a reusable cooling bandage which cools by a principle called Rapid Evaporation. Each bandage comes pre-treated and requires no prior refrigeration, making Physicool a training or kit-bag essential.

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One Response to “Taking the chill out of an ice bath”

  1. t25 workouts December 22, 2013 at 5:04 am #

    Aw, this was an exceptionally good post on the fors and against of ice baths. Spending some time and actual effort to make a top notch article…

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