As I was nearing the end of my 21-mile run on Sunday, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of an ice bath when I got home. I know – add a little torture to my torture, right? I must be crazy, but I do actually enjoy ice baths simply because I know how much better I feel afterwards. I can deal with 15 minutes of hell if it means a faster and less painful recovery.
We all know that ice is beneficial for aches and pains and can help speed up recovery of an injury. So just imagine what immersing your entire lower body in ice can do for sore muscles. What exactly does an ice bath do? Also known as cryotherapy, ice baths restrict the blood vessels and decrease metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once you get out of the ice bath and your tissues warm up, the blood starts to flow faster, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. Basically what that means is that ice baths reduce inflammation and help flush harmful metabolic debris out of the muscles.
If you are training for a half-marathon or marathon and have never tried taking an ice bath, I would highly recommend it after your next long run (two hours or longer). Here’s what I do: fill the bathtub about half-way (so that it comes up to my waist) and dump in 40 pounds (4 bags) of ice. I use this much ice because the cold water in Phoenix isn’t always that cold and it requires more ice. If you live in other parts of the country where your cold water is actually very cold, you can likely get away with only 2 bags of ice. The key is to still have some ice in the bath when you get out and not have it all melted.
I like to just get in and go for it all right away. My husband, on the other hand, prefers to get in the cold water and then gradually add the ice so that he gets used to it. Either way works. Then simply sit there for 10-20 minutes. The trick is to keep yourself occupied or entertained. I usually play games on my phone or read a trashy magazine – before I know it my 15 minutes is up.
Some other tricks that might make it more bearable: wear something warm on the top half of your body – a wool hat, down jacket or sweatshirt, etc. You could also take something warm to drink in the tub with you like coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
When you get out, throw on robe or towel, sit down, and slowly let your body warm up. Then take a warm shower and relax! I guarantee that you will be less sore over the next few days than you normally are after a long run.