Why do athletes take ice baths?

Getting an ice bath might seem painful, but for athletes and people who love strenuous workouts, it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to soothe pains from physical activities.

For a while, ice baths have been around, gaining attention and rising in popularity. However, while it relieves sore muscles, you can’t randomly take them once you feel so. It brings the opposite of your desired effects, depending and varying on your fitness goals.

Ice bath or also called cold therapy, or cold water immersion, is a type of cryotherapy that lets an individual sit in ice-cold water, typically up to the chest, for about 15 minutes. You don’t need to freeze yourself to reap the benefits it offers. A temperature ranging 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit is enough though, it is still not that delightful.

The first you experience an ice bath, you most likely be shocked and be out of breath. Don’t achieve completing 15 minutes right away. You can break them into different parts as the first few tries can be very painful and uncomfortable. But, soon enough, your body will adjust and build a tolerance.

Ice baths help athletes and gym-goers to feel and move better, allowing them to recover quickly. It reduces the chances of inflammation and aids in recovery by altering how blood and other bodily fluids flow inside the system. Ice baths force the blood vessels to constrict and then open back up or dilate after getting up. Such actions help in eliminating metabolic waste the body accumulated from strenuous physical activity. One example would be lymph, a transparent fluid composed of white blood cells from your stomach.

Moreover, the heart continuously pumps blood throughout your body. It increases the flow of blood and cells, carrying oxygen and nutrients, which aids the body’s recovery. 

Ice baths are also believed to get an individual ready for tough conditions. By exposing the body to the stress caused by an ice bath, it challenges the system, making a person more resilient for other tougher stimuli that would come along.

But, while it provides such benefits, ice baths can halt a person’s muscle gains. Some studies show that men who underwent cold therapy had smaller long-term gains in terms in terms of muscle strength compared to those who had an active recovery.

Any damage incurred from a game or a workout alerts the body to repair the affected more. By taking ice baths, you eliminate these signals and the stimulus for repair and growth. While it significantly helps in reducing inflammation, these might not have desirable effects in the long run when it comes to workouts or games.

For athletes, post-game ice baths don’t make them better athletes. Getting an ice bath doesn’t ensure that they are going to have a better performance the next day. It can make them feel better, though it hits more on the mental aspect than anything else.

Ice baths tend to have preferable effects on the central nervous system, allowing a person to feel and sleep better. Thus, indirectly boosting reaction explosiveness and reaction time in future games and workouts.

One more advantage is that ice baths are sure to improve performance on hot and humid days. Icing before a game or a workout decreases the effects of heat and humidity, promoting better movement.

More Readings:

Ice Bath (Wikipedia)

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