Over the last few decades, athletes around the world have been working to maximize their potential in one way or another. The desire to become better has affected almost every aspect of every sport, but a particular focus has been drawn to the element of recovery.
Even as training methods for athletes improve, and people are running farther, jumping higher, and lifting heavier than ever before, one thing has remained constant: the need for rest days and recovery days. No athlete can train nonstop, and taking days off is crucial to building endurance and strength. So, as the world of sports and fitness continues to improve and develop, recovery methods have to develop alongside it!
Naturally, there’s not one good way to recover. Depending on the scenario, body type, exercise, and many other factors, one form of recovery might be more appropriate than another. That being said, there are a few easy routines to add to your recovery that can help after almost any intense workout, one of those being the legendary ice bath.
The ice bath is a staple in many professional sports team locker rooms, and athletes all over will praise the benefits of ice baths. Beyond providing immediate relief to sore or aching muscles, ice baths can really give your recovery a boost after a super hard workout.
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What Happens After A Workout
If you’ve ever completed an intense HIIT workout (High-Intensity Interval Training) before, you know how much your body can go through in one gym session. Almost every part of your body is affected in one way or another, and before learning about how an ice bath can help, you should know what you’re trying to help in the first place!
Though an ice bath can be helpful in a number of ways, it will be most beneficial for three things when it comes to workout recovery: your muscles, circulation, and comfort.
During every workout, your muscles form tiny tears as they react to the weight and intensity of the exercise you are doing. These tears signal to your body that the muscle needs repair, and as your body works to repair the muscle, it grows! This is the driving force behind muscle gains and workout effectiveness.
Right after a workout, you likely won’t notice these tears, but a day or two afterward, these tears are part of something called “delayed-onset muscles soreness,” or DOMS for short.
During a workout, your blood pressure rises as your heart works harder to pump blood to all of your muscles. This is why many people will monitor their heart rate during a workout, as higher heart rates will often signal a more challenging exercise.
For people unaccustomed to fitness, this can put a strain on the cardiovascular system, but as you exercise more frequently and reach higher fitness levels, your body will adapt.
Body Heat and Stress
When humans get too hot, we sweat, and during tough workouts, we sweat a lot. Our bodies not only experience high heat during a workout but due to the sweat we produce, we can also experience dehydration. All of this is to say that we go through some pretty intense body trauma every time we workout!
Again, an ice bath won’t immediately solve your aches and pains, but when it’s time to recover, and you hop in that chilly water, you can get a great start on your post-workout recovery.
First of all, thanks to all those micro-tears in your muscles, you’ll likely see some inflammation and swelling as your body works to repair itself. Muscle recovery after a workout involves a number of processes, but by taking an ice bath immediately after tough workouts, you can reduce muscle swelling, as the cold temperatures make your blood vessels constrict (shrink). As your muscles repair themselves, the cold bath will ease your pain and help reduce muscle soreness in the future!
At the same time, your blood vessels constricting will also help your circulation and blood pressure. When the cold constricts your blood vessels, it not only reduces swelling it also helps improve your circulation and immune system. After you get out of the ice bath, your body will gradually heat up to its normal temperature again. This reopens your blood vessels, encouraging blood flow and better circulation.
In fact, this constricting and re-opening on your vessels also helps to clear metabolic waste that built up during your workout. By entering the cold bath and eventually re-heating, you are manually clearing up the systems within your body.
Listen To Your Body
Ice baths are a great way to help your muscle groups and body recover from tough workouts. At the same time, an ice bath shouldn’t be your only method of recovery! Active recovery, which involves low-intensity exercise designed to cool you down, is still highly recommended for all athletes. Other forms of recovery, like foam rolling and stretching, will also help you and your fitness goals.
Adding an ice bath to your recovery plan can certainly help you, but maximize your recovery by doing as many of these recovery techniques as possible!
Cold Plunging for Recovery
Plunge’s cold tubs are the perfect recovery tool for anyone, athlete or otherwise! Our temperature-controlled soaking tubs give you complete control of your cold tub experience, allowing you to recover in the ways you see fit.
Check out more cold plunging tips at our blog or on our FAQ page!