I do it in the summer. I do it in the winter. I did it five times this week.
Even Meb Keflezighi does it.
My mother thinks I’m crazy. My father is disgusted. My sister thinks I’ve taken things too far. Why?
It’s called an ice bath, and I swear by them. After my long runs and intense workouts (read: speed training and hills), I fill my bathtub full of cold water and a bag full of ice from the gas station down the street and hop in.
You’ve probably heard the term “ice bath,” but in case you’re unfamiliar, the ice bath is a post-running strategy used to prevent injuries caused by running long distances or high(er) speeds. According to this Runner’s World article Ice Baths: Cold Therapy the medical rationale behind is the ice bath is Cryotherapy which; “constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. “Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles.” Simply put, ice baths help our muscles to recover more quickly and efficiently from the damage and inflammation caused by running hard and/or long.
Some runners swear by ice baths, some (like my laugh out loud recent read, Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy) don’t think they are a necessary part of successful training plan. One recent study found that ice baths don’t actually do anything (medically) that aids in recovery. Some (like me) simply refused to do them. I refused to do them because they are cold. Very very cold. I hate cold.
But after my hip injuries and some nagging shin pain, I decided to give them a try. After all, if EVERYONE was doing it (read: some runners I knew and my coach), it was worth a try. I’ll try anything to keep running.
For my first ice bath, I simply filled my bathtub full of Utah fresh winter cold water (At the chilly temperature of 55 degrees. Yes, I measured it using a handy cooking thermometer.) and stepped into the bath. My feet literally felt pain like no other, so after I sat down in the bathtub, I had to remove my feet from the water so only the upper half of my lower body was submerged.
It was very cold. I only made it 5 minutes. However, I could already tell post-bath that my legs felt better. Fresher. All day long.
I was sold. I’m a sucker for fresh legs.
For my second attempt, I wore a sweatshirt in the bathtub. Additionally, because I have painfully poor circulation in my feet, I also kept my running socks on as well as my runner’s undergarments. I also brought in my iPOD to do some ice bath tweeting and survived FIFTEEN minutes.
After warming up (which took me a measly two hours), my legs felt 100% better. No shin pain. No abnormal hip pain.
I should make a t-shirt. “I went to ice bath land and all I got was fresh legs.”
Science and naysayers be darned, ice baths work for me.
Do they work for you? If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for?