You see it on TV all the time: the game ends and the cameras follow the players back to the changerooms, where tubs of icy water are waiting for them.
The fact that professional sports teams see the value in cold water immersion is a good sign that there are real-world, proven benefits of ice bath use. But in this article we’re going to delve a little deeper into ice baths, to learn what they are, how they’re used, and what the science has to say about this most refreshing of recovery methods.
What are ice baths?
Ice baths are exactly what the name suggests: tubs of icy water that are used by athletes, both professional and amateur, as a means to recover after exercise. The water usually sits at 0C-4C, and sessions tend to last as long as a person can handle the burn, though never longer than 15 minutes (due to the risk of adverse health effects such as hypothermia).
The practice of ‘cryotherapy’ – exposing the body to cold conditions – can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, where immersion in cold water was a go-to treatment for a wide variety of ailments. Modern science picked up the baton in the 1960s, this time narrowing the focus to the more verifiable benefits of jumping into ice baths after workouts.
What effects do ice baths have on the body?
When you lower yourself into an ice bath, the first effect on the body – beyond the obvious shock of the refreshing temperature – is that your blood vessels constrict.
The subsequent reduction of blood flow throughout the body is thought to help blunt the inflammatory response that can follow intense exercise. Some papers also suggest that this vessel constriction helps your body to flush out waste products like lactic acid from your muscles.
Then there are the widely reported psychological effects of cold water immersion: the feelings of invigoration and clear-headedness, as well as a potential reduction in anxiety, enhanced mental focus and improved sleep.
What are the benefits of ice baths post-workout?
First it’s important to state that the benefits of ice baths aren’t comprehensively proven. While certain studies have uncovered significant benefits, others found limited benefits, and in some cases none at all.
The most balanced take is simple: if you feel the benefits, ice baths are worth it. But what are these benefits exactly? Five of the most common include:
1. Improve post-workout recovery
Many people report feeling the benefits of an ice bath for muscle recovery. Ice bath sports recovery techniques are used across the globe and by all manner of athletes and organisations, all of whom are searching for that extra edge.
What’s more, after an intense workout, ice baths simply feel good in the moment. After the initial shock of the temperature, you’ll begin to feel the icy water actively cooling your sore, tired and burning muscles.
2. Relieve sore and aching muscles
In fact, an ice bath doesn’t need to follow a workout. Many people will use an ice bath for muscle pain, particularly during the rehabilitation phase of injury recovery. Taking an ice bath for sore muscles can also help to improve performance during your next workout.
3. Reduce inflammation
As mentioned above, the physiological effects of an ice bath – namely the constriction of blood vessels – can help to limit the body’s natural inflammatory response, and therefore reduce inflammation, which in turn helps you to recover faster.
4. Combat heat and humidity
Why just take an ice bath post-workout? When exercising in hot and humid conditions, a pre-workout ice bath can lower your body temperature and help you to perform better for longer.
5. Sharpen and balance your mind
The post-workout benefits of ice baths aren’t just physical – they can be mental too. Dutchman Wim Hof, better known as The Iceman, has developed the patented Wim Hof Method, a cold water immersion technique that has been proven to balance hormone levels, improve sleep, and produce mood-elevating endorphins.
How can I get my own ice bath?
With the popularity of ice baths on the rise, they are no longer exclusively found in well-funded sports teams and fitness centres. Nor do you have to fill your whole freezer with ice trays in order to enjoy one at home. Thanks to GymQuip, anyone can now own their own ice bath and take it with them wherever they exercise.
The Carbon Fitness Ice Bath from GymQuip is a lightweight, budget-friendly and ultra-transportable ice bath that you can place in your backyard, take with you to away games, or even pack on a trip!
GymQuip: your one-stop shop for fitness and health
At GymQuip we’ve spent three decades supplying the finest exercise, health and wellness equipment to happy customers, from fitness professionals, to amateur athletes, to people who simply take their health and wellbeing seriously.
Whether you’re in need of your own ice bath, a new set of resistance bands, or a complete commercial gym fitout, our expert team is ready to help you find the exact equipment you’re after. We can even design your gym layout, deliver the equipment to your door (five days a week, and for a flat fee of $99 if you’re within 20km of our store), and then install and maintain it (additional charges may apply).
As Australia’s largest fitness showroom, and with an even larger range of products available online, we have everything you need for the ultimate workout, including all the pre-workout and post-workout equipment that is so critical for improving athletic performance.
Visit us in-store, browse online, or let us come to you! Get in touch with our friendly team today.