There are many things an athlete can do after exercise to aid in their recovery. One method commonly used in professional sports is ice baths. Studies have shown that ice baths can reduce the symptoms of muscle soreness in the days after exercise.
How Ice Baths Work
When the body is immersed in cold water, the blood vessels in the muscles constrict, flushing the blood away from the muscles. When you get out, or ideally jump into a heated bath, they open back up (dilate). The mechanism for the benefits of ice baths has not been clearly determined. It is possible that this constrict/dilate process helps flush away metabolic waste such as lactic acid. The cold water may also act as an anesthetic, reducing pain after exercise. Then there is also the placebo effect. Whatever way, athletes report benefits from using ice baths for recovery.
What To Do
A water temperature around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) is commonly used. Try to stay in the ice bath for as long as you can, up to a maximum of 15 minutes. The time you can tolerate in the ice bath will depend on the water temperature and how much of your body is immersed in the cold water.
- Hohenauer E, Taeymans J, Baeyens J-P, Clarys P, Clijsen R (2015) The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0139028.
- Bieuzen, F., Bleakley, C.M., and Costello, J.T. (2013). Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 8(4): e62356.
- Recovery Methods for Sports
- Cooling Down - advice on ways to cool down after exercise.
- The Wim Hof Method and Its Impact on Sports Performance
- See treatment for sporting injuries
- Stretching Guide