Ice, Ice Maybe. Is the post-run ice bath about to be frozen out?

For years we have seen runners and athletes across a range of sports plunging themselves into bone-chilling vats of icy water after a hard race or training session in the name of recovery. But this could all be set to change.

Ice, Ice Maybe. Is the post-run ice bath about to be frozen out?

It’s thought the plummet in body temperature brought on by a post-run ice bath is beneficial to our aching muscles, reducing the inflammation caused by a rigorous bout of activity and speeding up the healing process.

But the latest science suggests we should consider ditching these shivering sessions of torture in favour of a gentle warm-down.

According to the Telegraph, trials conducted by the Queensland University of Technology found that ice baths have little impact on post-exercise muscle inflammation. Published in the Journal of Physiology, the study came to the conclusion that the practice is no more beneficial than a low-intensity warm-down.

It’s worth noting this study was performed in Australia, where they like their ice to perform the role of keeping their beer cold and would rather not waste it by sitting in it themselves.

Although the study found no discernible benefits between an ice-bath and conventional warm-down, it didn’t completely rule out the cold water method as a good way to help your body recover.

Icy science

Luke Thornton, personal trainer at Discount Supplements, is skeptical about the pros of ice bathing: 'The general opinion on ice baths is that the application of extreme cold after intense exercise can help prevent or reduce the effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) by restricting blood flow and reducing inflammation, however there is very little actual science to show any real benefits, and most opinion is based on anecdotal evidence.

'Improvements in fitness/strength/endurance come from the body’s ability to adapt to stress and change, and that’s exactly what exercise is for your muscles; stress. For example, the 100th time you run a mile it’ll hurt considerably less than the first time, and every time you recover properly, your body adapts to the stress allowing you to improve. However, if by restricting the blood flow with cryotherapy (the use of extreme cold treatment) after every single run, the body doesn’t learn to adapt as well as it could.

'However, if you’re unable to perform your chosen exercise due to things like knee pain, joint issues or muscular inflammation, then an ice bath could be advisable.'

DIY ice bath

So if you do still trust in the deep freeze as a way to help you get over that gruelling run, here are the Running Bug’s top tips to the Do It Yourself ice bath.

  1. Buy a few bags of ice from your local shop
  2. Fill the bath with some cold water
  3. Throw the ice in
  4. Remove your trousers and brave the cold water
  5. Sit there for 10 minutes wondering why you put yourself through this
  6. Get out

Thornton adds: 'Be sure to gradually adjust to extreme temperatures, especially if it’s your first time applying this method. If you find yourself constantly needing to use this technique though due to pain or other physical issues, it’s probably worth consulting a physician and dealing with the underlying problem.'

And if you’d rather stick with the conventional warm-down, these are the stretches you need to do religiously after your run.

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