Icing is one of the most underutilized training tools. It takes time and is zero fun. You have just finished the discomfort of a hard workout or race, and the idea of more discomfort is not appealing. However, I believe that it is a great tool in helping you recover from those hard workouts or races.
I break icing down into 2 types: 1) icing a specific area and 2) “large-scale” icing to help general muscle recovery. I’ll deal with the specific area icing, usually applied to deal with a specific injury concern, at a later date. This post will deal with the overall icing of ice baths.
When you push yourself physically, you are stressing your muscles and causing micro-tears. In the long term this is a good thing, because when the muscles heal, they are stronger. However, this muscle damage can cause soreness a day or 2 after the hard effort.
The research that has been done on cold water immersion appears to be inconclusive. The theory is that the cold water helps to reduce the muscle inflammation, relieving the post-race/workout soreness, and speeds up recovery. However, enough people (like me) have tried their own experiments of one and found the cold water to help, hence the reason so many athletes are willing to subject themselves to it.
If you are one of the lucky few who can end their hard workouts near a body of water, getting your legs into the cold ocean/lake/stream/pond is perfect. Wade in up to the tops of your legs and enjoy the cold for as long as you can stand it (5-15 minutes). However, most of us don’t have that luxury. So to the bathroom we must go.
If you have ever attempted ice baths, you know how difficult it is to motivate to actually get in one. Kurt Perham, coach extraordinaire of Personal Best Multisport Coaching, suggests what I think is pretty reasonable, considering this difficulty:
Sit in the tub, with bucket of ice (I am thinking a few trays of ice) next to the tub and allow the cold water to slowly cover your legs. Once the water just covers your legs, turn it off and dump in the bucket of ice. Sit in it for 5 minutes, after which you can get out and drain the tub. However, if you are hard core enough, you will continue to sit in the tub as the water slowly drains out. Total time in ice bath: 10-15 minutes.
Kurt is not the only coach to suggest ice baths to his clients. I know many other coaches who do, as did mine back when I was running marathons. My coach, who lived in Boulder, CO, talked of runners wading into cold mountain streams. Sounded idyllic, but I had to settle with an ice bath in a tub. I should have succumbed to the tub more often. Sometimes in the summer (as lame as it sounds) I would just run the cold hose over my legs for a few minutes. If you can’t do the full 10 minutes in the tub – a few minutes of some sort of cold water is better than nothing, I think.
So, if you are looking for that extra edge that helps you recover quicker – try an ice bath, or ocean/lake soak. If your legs feel better then next day, then great! If not, then at least you can boast to your buddies about how hard core you are.