Ice Bath Recovery – Should you take the Plunge?

Ice Bath Recovery

Almost every day I see someone on Twitter talking about finishing up a hard workout and heading home to suffer through an ice bath.

And why not?  A lot of people have had personal experiences where ice baths have reduced soreness and made it possible to get back to training.  That’s the goal right, to be able to train more in order to adapt and get stronger, faster, quicker, etc.?

And certainly there are plenty of trusted voices whispering in our ear that ice baths are the best path to a quicker recovery.

From verywell:

“For recovery after a long run, tough workout or race, nothing beats an ice bath. Soaking in a tub filled with water and ice will help reduce inflammation of tissues and joints, relieve soreness, and speed up your recovery.”

From Runners World:

“Ice baths are one of the most effective ways to offset the damage done on a run.”

From Whole9:

“For those of you who follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed our recent love affair with ice. Specifically, we’re Tweeting about the thrice-weekly ice baths we’ve been taking following our training sessions at Gym Jones. Training there is a whole different ball game, and after our first workout, we wondered whether we’d be recovered in time for our next session. Three days later. Enter our new favorite recovery tool – the ice bath.”

But Ice Bath Recovery isn’t Nirvana

In general, I tend to agree with most of the advice from the team at Whole9; however I think their article about ice baths doesn’t provide you with the other side of the coin.

I presume that the reason you are training is so you can adapt and get better.  But what if the hard work from a training session is blunted by your dip into an ice bath?

That’s exactly what this research study suggests:

Significant training effects were three times more frequent in the control than in the cold group, including increases in artery diameters in the control but not in the cold group. It is concluded that training-induced molecular and humoral adjustments, including muscle hyperthermia, are physiological, transient and essential for training effects (myofiber regeneration, muscle hypertrophy and improved blood supply). Cooling generally attenuates these temperature-dependent processes and, in particular, hyperthermia-induced HSP formation. This seems disadvantageous for training, in contrast to the beneficial combination of rest, ice, compression and elevation in the treatment of macroscopic musculo-tendinous damage.”

And here is a similar blog post stating that cold water immersion may limit post-training adaptations:

From Science in Football:

 “Cryotherapy-induced reduction in muscle damage and inflammation might suppress training adaptations.”

And lastly, another supporting view based on research from Auckland University:

And from the Sparta Point blog:

“So icing can provide a numbing sensation to where it is applied, whether it is full body immersion or direct local application. However, it will not reduce inflammation to help recovery from exercise, thus icing can actually decrease performance in ensuing training bouts. It will also inhibit the gains from the preceding training session by blocking muscle growth.”

My Takeaways:

Ice bath recovery probably has a beneficial role to play after a particularly difficult race or competition.

However, in a training environment, if you are pushing yourself so hard that you need an ice bath after every session, you are training too hard (and probably overtraining).  Why not dial-it-down a notch, skip the ice bath, and benefit from the hard work out by letting your body adapt?

What are your thoughts?  Anyone have a different opinion or research that says something different?

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photo credit:  Roll Bama Roll