When the workout is over and it’s time to recover, we have a short list of things we’d like to do to help us relax: get a full-body massage; take a nice hot shower; maybe sip a protein shake and play some X-Box. An ice bath doesn’t immediately come to mind. But according to many top strength coaches who work with pro athletes, soaking in a tub full of ice is something that can make a big difference in the way your body recovers.
WHY IT WORKS
After a workout, your body needs to “repair” itself to prepare for the next training session. It does so with the help of blood vessels that bring oxygen to your muscle tissue while removing waste products of exercise — the most common being lactic acid. Too much lactic acid build-up can cause your muscles to function poorly and will often lead to fatigue. An ice bath will immediately reduce swelling while flushing lactic acid out of your body. When you sit in an ice bath — or when you rub a cup of ice on the muscles you just trained — the cold causes your blood vessels to tighten. This helps drain the lactic acid out of your tired muscles. When you get out of the bath, your muscle tissue warms back up, causing a return of oxygenated blood to help your muscles recover.
HOW TO DO YOUR OWN COLD THERAPY
For the hardcore: Ice bath Grab three bags of ice from a convenience store and fill your bath tub halfway full with cold water. Pour the ice in. (The first few times you take an ice bath, only immerse your lower body, from the hips down. After you get more comfortable with sitting in the ice bath, begin slowly lowering your upper torso until submerged, up to your neck if you can handle it.) Sip a cup of hot tea and read a magazine to take your mind off the bath. (We also recommend wearing shorts.) Shoot for at least 10 minutes in the tub. Once you get more comfortable, you can increase it up to 20 minutes, but never over.
For the not-so-hardcore: Ice massage Buy a sleeve of paper cups and fill two or three with tap water, leaving an inch of space at the top. Place in the freezer. After your training session, grab a cup from the freezer, tear off the paper around the top, and massage the muscle you worked. (You may want to put a towel under the spots your massaging.) As the ice melts, you can slowly tear away more of the paper. Massage for at least 10 minutes.