Experts share everything to know about ice baths

Jumping into a bath of ice may sound painful, but for years it’s been considered a great way for speeding up fitness recovery.

It’s also thought to offer a whole range of other health benefits, too. 

‘Ice baths, otherwise known as cold-water immersion, is used in sports therapy, typically after intense exercise and training,’ explains David Wiener, a training and nutrition specialist at Freeletics.

‘Used in all kinds of sports, they can have benefits of speeding up muscle recovery, reducing muscle damage and boosting circulation.’

It’s a topic that’s currently in the spotlight too – with the new BBC show, titled Freeze the Fear, following celebrities as they undertake extreme challenges in the freezing cold temperatures.

But are ice baths really worth the hype? 

Ice baths certainly aren’t for everybody and I always advise people to look into the pros and cons of starting something new before diving into it,’ explains wellbeing, fitness and nutrition expert Penny Weston.

So we’ve asked experts to help us look at exactly that – this is everything to know…

What to know about ice baths

Can help with fatigue, muscle soreness and recovery

‘Ice baths are good for easing muscle soreness and can help boost the central nervous system,’ explains David.

‘They do this by aiding sleep quality, which is beneficial as it makes you feel better and less fatigued. Ice baths have even been said to improve reaction time and explosiveness in future workouts.’

May help mental health

‘Some research also shows that ice baths can have mental health benefits as they can help you relax and focus on breathing,’ adds Penny.

‘Most people don’t find them a very pleasant experience at first though.’

Finnish ice bath expert Kyle Miller, explains that ice baths present both a physical and mental challenge – as you battle against your natural instincts to immerse yourself in the cold temperatures.

He says: ‘The immediate shock to the system brings you almost into a state of meditation – allowing you to release any stress and to be completely present at the moment. 

‘Immersing yourself in piercing temperatures is not an exercise that feels natural – but pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to overcome the fear, makes you both physically and mentally stronger.’

Short-term relief

However, experts point out that ice baths are only really good as a short-term fix – and should be used alongside other options. 

David adds: ‘There is research to suggest that ice baths speed up muscle recovery, but that they’re only beneficial as a quick fix. For example, footballers who need a quick recovery between matches or runners who need a quick recovery between races.

‘Unless you participate in intense sports and exercise, then they are not necessary as part of your recovery and shouldn’t replace massages, stretching and yoga – which are just as beneficial. 

‘Ultimately, the best natural recovery you can get is eating well and resting.’

Know the risks

If you’re considering it, there are some important things to note too.

David says: ‘There does come a risk with ice baths – immersing yourself into water which is too cold can send your body into shock and trigger hypothermia, which is why I wouldn’t recommend doing it at home.

‘Ice baths can also decrease the core body temperature by constricting blood vessels and slowing the blood flow of the body. If you have any pre-existing cardiovascular conditions or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor or avoid ice baths altogether.’

Don’t do it for too long

Penny also stresses that you must make sure you don’t stay in for too long. 

She adds: ‘Ten minutes is the absolute maximum, if you can stand it that long, as there is a risk of hypothermia and frostbite.

‘Some evidence says only up to three minutes is beneficial anyway so just a few minutes is ideal.’

Can you take an ice bath at home?

The short answer is yes, you can take an ice bath at home – but, as David mentioned earlier, it’s vital to ensure you’re doing it in a safe way. And experts don’t necessarily advise it.

Instead it might be better to find a place offering cryotherapy sessions.

David says: ‘If you were to do it at home, use a thermometer so you reduce the risk of the water being too cold.

‘It needs to be between approximately 10 and 15 Celsius, and if you find the water too hot or too cold, keep adding either warmer or colder water until you hit the right temperature.’

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