Whether you’ve just finished a marathon, long run or hard workout, most runners know that recovery is key to staying strong and injury free. But with so many recovery options available, it can be hard to decide which one is best. We often experiment with stretching, foam rolling and even yoga – but many runners hesitate when it comes to ice baths after running.
The thought of plunging your body into frigid water after a hard run sounds uncomfortable, to say the least.
Although, if ice baths are anything but pleasant, why do many runners continue to use them for recovery?
Are ice baths good for recovery?
There is a great deal of conflicting evidence as to whether or not ice baths actually enhance recovery after running. However, the majority of studies and experts are finding that ice baths are in fact good for recovery – the question now remains just how good they actually are.
Robert Gillanders, the Spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association explains how cold water immersion after running can help promote recovery.
He explains that ice baths are helpful in reducing swelling after running because the cold water lowers metabolic activity and constricts blood vessels, thus preventing tissue damage.
Once your muscles emerge from the ice bath, the tissue starts to warm up which causes blood flow to return much faster. This increased flow helps remove waste and promotes optimal recycling within the body.
The Benefits of Ice Baths after Running
The vast majority of studies show that ice baths have the potential to greatly speed up and improve your overall recovery from running.
Incorporating ice baths after a marathon, long run, or hard workout is a great way to enhance your recovery and help your body stay injury free.
Focusing on recovery keeps your legs feeling fresh during training, helps prevent lingering muscle soreness, and protects your body from developing overuse injuries.
As more and more runners begin to experiment with cold water immersion and ice bath recovery, you might be wondering how exactly to put this technique into place yourself. Here is everything you need to know to successfully implement ice baths after running.
4 Ice Bath Recovery Basics for Runners
The concept of an ice bath is relatively straightforward – sit in a bath filled with ice. But as we make a plan to implement this recovery tactic, we quickly find ourselves with many questions.
What temperature should the water be? How much ice do you put in the bath? Is a cold water bath just as good? How long should you sit in the ice bath?
If you’re finding yourself with more questions than you expected, you’re not alone.
When to Take an Ice Bath
The best way to get the most recovery support from your ice bath is to take it after running. Soaking in an ice bath on the daily after a workout is usually not necessary, and often way too cold to be manageable. Instead, try to save them for harder efforts.
Take an ice bath after running more difficult or intense efforts – such as after finishing a marathon, half marathon, long run or hard workout during training.
To truly reap the recovery support, try to take your ice bath shortly after finishing your run. Prep your recovery shake, hydration drink or post-run snack ahead of time so you can easily grab it after your run and take it with you to the tub.
Try to start your ice bath around 15-30 minutes after finishing your run.
Ice Bath Temperature
Once you’ve created a plan for the timing of your ice bath, you’ll need to know how to set it up. The most convenient way to stay consistent with ice bath recovery is to take one right at home in your own bathtub.
In general, you’ll want to aim for a bath temperature around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This might not sound too cold at first, but it doesn’t take long to discover just how chilly this water temperature actually feels.
If you’re struggling to get in or stay in your ice bath at this temperature, try starting a bit warmer and working your way down to this temperature with each new bath. Your body and mind will have a bit of time to adjust to the shock more gradually, helping ease the transition.
Can I use cold water instead of ice?
Using bags of ice is a great way to cool the water down and make sure you get as many benefits as possible from your ice bath. Adding just 1-2 bags of ice is usually all it takes to cool things down effectively.
A simple strategy to help minimize discomfort is to get your bath tub filled with water first, then get in the tub before adding ice. Let your body adjust to this temperature, and then gradually add in the ice.
If you don’t have ice on hand, taking a cold water bath certainly provides many benefits as well. Cold water immersion can successfully improve recovery after running even without the use of ice. Test your water and see how close you can get to that 60 degree mark using just the faucet.
How Long to Ice Bath
Once you’re sitting in the ice bath, the only thought crossing your mind will likely involve getting out of the tub. It’s tempting to hop in for a minute or two and call things good before your body even has a chance to adjust to the cold water.
Try to aim for around 10 minutes in your ice bath. Remind yourself that those first few minutes are always the worst, but as time passes, your body will adjust to the water temperature and it’ll start to feel a bit more bearable.
If you can’t make it 10 minutes during your first ice bath, work your way up with each bath.
The nice thing about ice baths is that they don’t require much time to reap the benefits. 10-15 minutes of soaking is usually all you need to successfully constrict those blood vessels and help reduce inflammation.
The Mental Battle of an Ice Bath: Pushing Past the Pain
Ice baths are similar to running in terms of discomfort that they bring. When running begins to feel comfortable, we push ourselves to new levels with speed workouts and increased mileage. As our body adapts to these new pressures, we find that a majority of the struggle we face is in our mind.
Sitting in an ice bath for any length of time requires great mental strength. No matter how many ice baths you have taken, the water never feels any warmer when you first get in.
However, once we begin using ice baths for recovery, experiencing the benefits in our running is often enough to motivate us to continue. Pushing past the discomfort of sitting in cold water for 10 minutes is well worth the reward of healthy, injury-free training.