Cold Plunges and Ice Baths: Is This Recovery Right For Me?

Taking a dip into an ice bath after an intense workout isn’t a new form of exercise recovery; while more research certainly needs to be done in order to determine if ice baths actually aid in decreasing the pain of sore muscles, it does seem like this cold-water immersion positively impacts many people. 

Essentially, the goal is to immerse yourself in ice-cold water (less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and stay in it for 10-15 minutes. This process has a few potential benefits, including a decrease in core body temperature, a reduction in inflammation, a decrease in soreness within the muscles, an improvement in mood and mental health, and a decrease in blood pressure, to name a few.

Even with all of these potential benefits, some information states the opposite! For example, one small study from The Journal of Physiology debated the efficacy of ice baths for muscle soreness; the research enlisted nine young males who participated in resistance training exercises for the lower body. After the workouts, they either did cold water immersion or active recovery. The end research noted no difference in overall recovery between the active recovery piece and the cold-water immersion! This is a small-scale study, so obviously, more in-depth studies need to be completed – it is an exciting way to look at the benefits of ice baths, though. 

This study is intriguing since a large majority of people believe that taking an ice bath can decrease muscle soreness (more so than hopping on a bike for a period of active recovery post-workout). However, whether this is a fad, a placebo effect, or it really does work, it will take much more research to determine how the cold-water immersion actually affects the body. 

While it might sound lovely to dip into the next ice bath that you come across, please be aware that this type of recovery is not meant for everyone. Always speak with your physician before trying a cold plunge in order to determine any contraindications that might adversely affect your health. Hypothermia is undoubtedly a factor to consider when using ice baths, so utilizing these resources with the help of trained professionals is highly recommended. 

Regardless of how you feel after a cold plunge, make sure that you incorporate other recovery avenues as well in order to have a well-rounded workout routine! 

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