Muscle soreness is a familiar and dreaded companion for competitive athletes in training. Ice baths, also known as cold water immersion or cold water therapy, can be an effective recovery method to flush out lactic acid, diminish muscle soreness, and leave athletes feeling fresh for their next training session. This recovery method is common amongst collegiate and professional athletes across a variety of sports.
The Impact of Ice Baths
After an intense training session, an athlete’s body needs to repair itself to prepare for the next training session. In many collegiate programs and professional sports organizations, athletic facilities have ice baths for players to jump into post-workout. Lactic acid builds up in muscles during a workout and causes body soreness and fatigue. Sitting in an ice bath or cold tub after intense exercise causes blood vessels in arm and leg muscles to tighten or constrict, resulting in blood moving closer to the core and heart to maintain warmth. When an athlete gets out of the cold bath, blood is quickly circulated back to arm and leg muscles in an attempt to warm the body. This blood is now oxygenated and has exchanged lactic acid waste with nutrients before traveling back to muscles. As a result of the cold temperature, lactic acid is flushed out of muscles, circulation is accelerated, and muscles recover faster. Additionally, cold treatment is an effective way to bring down inflammation. A study conducted in 2015 analyzed the effect of ice baths on reducing muscle soreness. Researchers concluded that an ice bath at 11-15 degrees Celsius for 11-15 minutes is the best protocol. Other researchers caution that ice baths can lower the body’s ability to adapt and recovery, so athletes should not ice bath after every training session. The research on cold-water therapy shows mixed results, however many players feel lighter and healthier after taking an ice bath.
Athletes at all levels should make the recovery process a top priority. From eating healthy to taking ice baths to foam rolling, there are many effective ways to help athletes recover and ultimately enhance athletic performance. Ice baths are useful for a quick recovery between training sessions or during a competition. To learn more about recovery check out this article on customized recovery for collegiate athletes and the benefits of foam rolling.