The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of The Post-Workout Ice Bath

At 22 years old, I’ve tried my hand in almost every sport you can think of: soccer as a young lad, until I realized I hated a sport that required using my feet (when I just wanted to pick the ball up and throw it for the fences). So soccer gave way, naturally, to baseball and basketball. I blazed through elementary and middle school, alternating between leather baseball glove, aluminum bat, and basketball, picking up a wealth of bruises and other sports-related injuries along the way.

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From there, I discovered I enjoyed the contact part of sports, and thus took a swing at lacrosse. Lacrosse combines the grace and hand eye-coordination of basketball with the gritty, fearless, “I-will-clash-helmets-with-you” aspect of football. At that point, I was fresh into high school, and pumped full of testosterone; it was a mere inevitability I’d sustain all matters of injuries for the remainder of my career on the field. And oh did I! This is where the vaguely helpful, remarkably uncomfortable ice bath came into play. I’ve pulled together some, well, we’ll call them fun facts, on what you should know before you go for your first post-workout glacier cold dip in the tub.

The Good

1. More Mass Coverage For Treatment

Those hand-sized ice pack pouches you might otherwise take to your body’s sore areas simply can’t cover as much space as an all-encompassing pool of icy cold H2O. Basically; if you find yourself battered down and worn out after the next gruesome workout; with no energy to pull together ‘all the ice packs,’ opt for the low-maintenance option.

2. Cuts Back Soreness

Ice baths have shown themselves as capable of decreasing folks’ metabolisms, and thereby slowing down physiological post-exercise processes: soreness, muscle tautness, etc.

3. Athletic Superhumans Swear By The Ice Bath

Take it from previous Ultrarunner of the year, Nikki Kimball, who loudly advocates the greater, long-lasting effects wrought by cold-water immersion (ice bath) vs. ice packs. She’s only been running Ultramarathons for 10 years, without any significant injuries. Ahem.

The Bad

1. Overexposure

This one’s pretty intuitive and clear-cut; don’t spend more than six to eight minutes in that ice bath; and ensure it’s set at a temperature between 54-60 degrees. To do so, runs you at risk for sustaining dangerous side effects. I’m thinking something along the lines of bluepurple-skinned hypothermia.

2. Effectiveness Not Yet Legitimately Proven

Competing sports research scientists argue over the proven or lack thereof effectiveness of the ice bath; and whether it might be a mere placebo player. I say: if you feel as if the effects experienced after your first ice bath are positive, then run with and don’t question it! If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

The Ugly

1. It’s F**king Cold

Simple truth of it all is some of us run warmer, or were born with a greater capacity to tolerate the harsh and indifferent cold; while the others surround themselves with heaters, hot teas, and blankets. If you consider yourself a shivering member of the latter party, I’d recommend you consider steering away from the ice bath. There are plenty of effective post-workout treatments out there that won’t steal the warmth from all corners, near and far, of your body. But if you’re a competitive athlete, who’s committed to sustaining a rigorous workout routine to keep your edge; well then the ice bath might be just the icy cold trick you need up your sleeve.