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benefits and protocol of ice baths in athletes

Ice bath

An ice bath is a process in which an athlete or any other healthy person immerses their own body in ice water for a limited time, usually as part of a recovery process. 

Over the past few years, we can see a large number of professional athletes regularly using ice baths in their recovery. 

But are ice baths just a new trend or do they really have significant benefits behind them?

How cold should the ice bath be? 

How much time can you spend in an ice bath in a day and a week? 

To find out the answer to these questions and many others, we would definitely recommend that you read this blog to the end! 

Ice bath
Benefits of ice baths

Potential benefits of ice baths

The proposed benefits of ice baths are numerous and according to scientific research, ice baths have a positive effect on almost all segments and parts of the human body. 

The proposed benefits of ice baths can be divided into 4 basic categories: 

Overall health of the body: 

  • Support to the immune system
  • Energy increase 
  • Improved circulation
  • Improved quality of sleep

Mental health:

  • Reduced stress levels
  • Mood enhancement
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increase in mental resilience

Recovery and reduction of pain:

  • Reducing inflammation of the tissue
  • Reduction of chronic pain
  • Performance enhancement
  • Increased physical resistance

Impact on the skin:

  • Reducing the appearance of wrinkles
  • Skin tightening 
  • Reduction of skin inflammation
  • Relieving sunburn

Ice bath research

Meta analysis published in 2022. in the Journal of Sports medicine showed that exposure to cold water is beneficial for muscle recovery because the drop in temperature reduces the creatine kinase enzyme that is usually released when muscle cells are damaged. 

A study published in the journal of JMIR Formative Research has shown that low temperatures can stimulate the vagus nerve whose stimulation helps to relax and relieve stress

One randomized study that was done on male athletes showed that athletes who made a complete body dive into the ice bath after running on the track were consequently having a better quality of sleep

Immersing the body in cold water also raises the mood in a way that triggers the release of a number of neurotransmitters , and among them is dopamine, a hormone that causes feelings of happiness and pleasure

 

Ice bath research
Ice bath protocol

Scientifically proven protocol

Andrew Huberman, a renowned neuroscientist at Stanford University, is known for his research and advocacy of ice baths. 

According to his research secure protocol ice baths involve intentional exposure to cold 11 minutes a week!

By no means do not take 11 minutes at a time. 2-4 sessions lasting 1-5 minutes spread throughout the week are proposed.

How cold is the water?

This is a question that is very difficult to answer because tolerance to cold is very individual from person to person. 

It is recommended to start by keeping in the range between 10 - 15 degrees Celsius to be safe and the water would be cold enough to achieve the desired benefits. 

As you develop cold tolerance, you can lower that temperature. 

Ice bath temperature
Method of application of ice bath

Method of application of ice bath

At home: The most practical and inexpensive way to apply an ice bath is at your own home. Fill the bath with cold water and add as many ice cubes as your cold tolerance allows. 

You can also use inflatable pools or any other similar structure which you have in your own yard. 

Rehabilitation centers: This method of application of ice bath is becoming increasingly popular in the world, but unfortunately in Croatia and its surroundings has not yet come to life. 

Ocean or river?: This is the least safe option and we would recommend doing it only if you are extremely safe and know the ocean or river you are entering, and also know that you can handle their cold. 

Ice baths are a useful tool for recovery

As you may have read through this blog, ice baths have a number of benefits and have a positive impact on recovery of the body, immunity, levels of stress, positive mood and improving the quality of sleep

It is important that you implement them gradually and safely and stick to the recommended protocols! 

Conclusion
Picture of Bsc. PT. Toni Marić

Bsc. PT. Toni Marić

Toni is bacc. physical therapist and the owner of the Ad Sacrum clinic who has been treating top athletes for years and also teaches at the Dry needling courses for physiotherapists.

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