How to Take an Ice Bath
|July 6, 2011||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
Now that I’m done with peak training and starting my taper, it seems like the perfect day to discuss one of my new favorite recovery tactics.
The ice bath. (Dear employer, no, that is not my work phone perched precariously on the edge of a full tub…I don’t know what you’re talking about.)
Now, you may think a “how to” guide for taking an ice bath is completely unnecessary (put ice in tub and then bathe, duh) …but bear with me, because some people (cough cough me cough cough) don’t have the street smarts it takes to execute a perfect, and bearable, ice bath.
Last summer, I tried to take my first ice bath when I was in the middle of marathon training and staying in a hotel in Northwest Washington state with an ice machine located conveniently down the hallway from my room.
“Perfect!” I thought,”I can finally try an ice bath after my 20 mile long run and see if the rumors are true about the magic powers of ice baths.”
But I did everything wrong: I filled the tub with at least 18 buckets of ice, making the water so cold it was an instant recipe for hypothermia and submerged with just a bikini on. The only thing that ice bath accomplished was making everyone within a 5 mile radius think someone was being brutally tortured as my screams and streams of expletives echoed throughout town.
I lasted 20 seconds before I cried Uncle and drained that glacier of a tub.
That terrible experience turned me off from ice baths for quite some time, but once Ironman training ramped up and included tough workouts on both days of the weekend, I needed something to help speed up recovery. And, I’ve learned a few things since my first pathetic attempt at an ice bath.
(Scarred knees brought to you by the sport of triathlon and the klutzy ways of Sweaty Emily)
According to a Runner’s World article lauding the benefits of Ice Baths:
“Cryotherapy ("cold therapy") constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity,which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. "Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles," says David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished both the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run 10 consecutive times.”
Or, for those of you who don’t speak science (like myself), ice baths are the bomb.com for making your muscles feel better faster.
Here are my tips for an effective and (more) tolerable ice bath:
1) Buy the ice the night before or carry cash on your workout to purchase bags of ice before you go home.
Hands down, the number one reason I won’t take an ice bath at the end of a run is because I am too damn hungry to worry about fetching ice. By the time I satisfy my hunger, I convince myself that I’ve missed the ideal window to take an ice bath (probably a crock of shit but when my tummy wants something, it’s very easy to believe just about any lie I tell myself to ensure I can just. keep. eating.)
Buying the ice ahead of time guarantees you can immediately satisfy your tired muscles AND your hungry belly. And if you have both ice and food nearby, you can put the ice in one hand, food in the other and then put those hands together. Because what goes better with an ice bath than a side of Ben and Jerrys, or a protein shake, or a bagel smothered in cream cheese or a…yeah, you get the idea. Food + ice bath=recovery win.
2) Fill tub with cold water AND THEN add the ice.
Adding the ice before you submerge in the water will make it nearly impossible to dip more than a toenail in. Let your body acclimate to the cold water before adding the icy torture to it. Trust me on this one, it helps A LOT to add the ice after you’re in the tub.
3) Layer up.
After my first pathetic attempt at an ice bath, I quickly learned that one of the best ways to endure the cold water is to keep your upper body warm. I always keep my shorts on and wear a hoodie. Some people will put on down jackets, hats, wooly mittens, pretty much anything that will help you stay submerged long enough to make those muscles happy.
4) Drink something hot while you’re in the tub.
My beverage of choice is a nice mug of hot chocolate or a big serving of tea.
But bringing any steamy cup of liquid into the tub will keep your core temperature up and help trick your lower body into thinking that chilling (ha. ha.) with ice cubes is the cool (ha. ha.) thing to do after a long run.
5) Entertain yourself.
I like to bring my computer in to the bathroom with me and set it up at a safe distance from the tub full of water to play my favorite TV shows while I’m bathing. The ideal length of time to stay in an ice bath is 10-20 minutes, which, if you’re doing nothing but thinking that your toes might fall off if you stay in the tub a second longer feels like an unbearably long time. I find that watching Top Chefs duke it out over the Quickfire Challenge helps the time go by at least a littlebit faster.
6) Think about how you feel when you don’t take one.
I would be lying to you if I told you I religiously submerge into an ice bath after every tough Ironman workout. I do not. I still fear that initial shock of cold water and sometimes convince myself that I don’t need one. And then I limp around all weekend because my muscles feel so much worse than they do when I take an ice bath.
The fact of the matter is, ice baths work, and reminding myself of that keeps me coming back for more week after week.
Are you a believer in the ice bath? Or are you terrified in being a part of anything that involves ice and a tub? Any tips to add to the list?