A blog by runners. For runners.

Ice baths: help or hype

What's the deal with ice baths? Help or hype?Ice baths were all the rage in the running community a few years ago. A Runner’s World article published in 2008 aid, “ice baths are one of the most effective ways to offset the damage done on a run”.

But now the helpfulness of ice baths is being debated among running experts.

Ice baths are good …
The reasoning behind the ice bath phenomenon made sense. Cryotherapy, or “cold therapy”, has been used since the 17th century for medical purposes. Using ice can constrict blood vessels, reduce swelling, decrease pain, and ease muscle spasms. So, it’s no mystery why ice baths became so popular among runners.

Runners’ hips, glutes, IT bands, hamstrings, calves, shins, and feet all take a beating during long runs, so using ice to recover is a good idea. And an ice bath is a more efficient means of cold therapy than an ice pack because it can reach more muscle groups at the same time.

Ice baths are bad …
It seems like an ice bath would be the perfect way to help speed up the recovery process after a long run. However, newer research says too much recovery can be a bad thing.

The wear and tear your body sustains during a long or hard workout may actually help you get stronger throughout training. Over time, your body adapts to this fatigue and damage and learns how to recover from it more quickly, which will make your next run feel easier. This can make you a stronger, faster runner in the long term. But if you take ice baths, you stop your body from learning how to adapt to the demands of training, which can negatively impact running performance.

The bottom line
Every runner is different. For some of us, ice baths may help, but for others, it may hinder performance. The only way to know if ice baths help or hurt you is to try them yourself. Taking a few ice baths over the course of training likely isn’t going to derail your hard work, so if you’re feeling particularly sore after a workout, go ahead and take an ice bath.

How to take an ice bath
Follow these tips if you want to take the plunge:

  • Fill a tub up with cold water so that it goes up to your hips.
  • Wear a sweater or sweatshirt into the tub. Only your lower half will be submerged, so wear a warm top.
  • Make a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate – it’ll help keep you warm.
  • Get into the tub and pour two large bags of ice into the water.
  • Sit in the tub for 15 minutes.

Ice baths: yay or nay?

Written by Jen Matz.