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Sitting in a bath of ice cold water following a hard training session may seem bizarre. Going to the gym and working out is enough for most people, and the idea of doing anything more than collapsing onto the couch following training might bring you out in a cold sweat. But when that “something more” is an ice bath, that’s enough to turn anyone’s blood cold – literally!
First up, let’s take a look at why people use such a bizarre practice as part of their training regime.
The idea behind cryotherapy is that the cold effectively constricts the blood vessels around the muscle cells, thus severely restricting blood flow. Some form of cool down is always recommended post exercise, as simply waltzing out of the gym straight after you've finished your last set isn't best practice. While many people choose to sit on a bike and pedal sedately for a little while, or go for a walk round the block as a way of cooling down, more and more gym goers are implementing these extreme tactics that once were purely the game of elite athletes.
Delayed onset muscle soreness, more commonly known as DOMS, can affect anyone, regardless of your level of training experience.
The soreness you feel in the days following an exceptionally challenging workout are caused by this muscle breakdown. The theory is that by cutting off blood flow and reducing inflammation, you’ll reduce DOMS. Not only will this make the next few days much less painful, but for athletes, who often train every day, and sometimes more than once, it means they can carry on with their normal routine without being adversely affected by DOMS.
Another advantage is the pain gate theory. If you've ever taken a true ice bath, you’ll know that it’s not just uncomfortable – it can be down right agony. Fortunately though, this can have some benefits.
Signals of extreme temperature travel to your brain faster than signals of pain. If you’re feeling really rundown and achey after training, or have suffered a painful muscle pull, and ice bath can temporarily relieve the pain.
Anecdotally, there seems to be a lot of evidence to support the notion of ice baths being helpful. You only have to look at how many top professional sports teams, and even semi pro and amateur teams now have ice baths at their facilities. Not only that, but many high end gyms and health spas are introducing cryotherapy and recommending members take ice baths, or even freezing cold showers after training.
Recent research has come to light, however, that suggests ice baths maybe aren't quite all they’re cracked up to be.