Sounds like torture, right? Well, it feels like it at first, but the tried-and-true ice bath has become par for the course in the elite camp, and a practice any competitive athlete should consider. As fellow Wellsphere contributor Marathon Matt mentions in his post on recovery, immersing oneself (or, at least the lower half) in ice (or super-cold water) is an effective way to treat inflammation, muscle strains and overall muscle soreness. When using just a mere ice pack, temperatures within the muscles increase instantly after a 20-minute application. But after a bath, the muscles continue to cool even after you jump out.
According to an article in Running Times, "immersion allows controlled, even constriction around all muscles, effectively closing microscopic damage that cannot be felt and numbing the pain that can. You may step into the tub to relieve sore calves, but your quads, hams, and connective tissues from hips to toes will gain the same benefits, making hydrotherapy an attractive preventive regimen." Secondly, because of the shock to the system, the body invokes a blood rush. "This rapid transmission circulation flushes the damage-inflicting waste from your system, while the cold water on the outside preserves contraction." Try this at home: fill the tub with water that's between 54 and 60 degrees. Soak for about ten minutes. Wear a hat, sweater, and/or drink tea, if you must, to offset the discomfort. Hop out, dry off, have some breakfast, and take a warm shower about 30 to 60 minutes later. I took an ice bath (my first successful attempt) after a long, hard workout recently. During the first minute or two, I thought my feet would freeze off. It was terrible. But after the initial shock wore off, it really wasn't all that bad. I wrapped a towel around my shoulders and drank my coffee during the 10-minute soak. Later in the day, I noticed that my legs didn't feel as "dead" as usual, and the next day I felt great! And my feet are still here.
You know how you?ll feel really sore a couple of days after a tough workout? Well that's called delayed onset muscle soreness. When you did that workout you actually tore down some of your muscle fiber and it gets sore when it begins to heal. It may be tempting to moan and groan and ditch working out all together but it's really best to get up and get moving. That doesn?t mean another punishing workout but some gentle stretches and a walk will help get blood to those areas so they can heal faster. I haven?t tried the cold bath thing. I like mine really hot.