Contents of Blog Post
- Do Ice Baths Work? The Science Behind Ice Baths
- Factors To Consider When Using Ice Baths
- When Should You Ice Bath?
- How Many Times A Week Should You Ice Bath?
- Can Cold Showers Do The Same Thing?
- About the Author
Do Ice Baths Work? The Science Behind Ice Baths
Using ice baths for recovery does work. You may often hear that they aren’t as effective as people make them out to be. But that depends on many factors which I will cover below.
The science behind how ice baths work is by cooling the skin, muscle, and core temperature. This leads to constriction of the blood vessels slowing or blocking the flow of blood which may decrease swelling and acute inflammation muscle damage
Further, ice baths have been shown to acutely improve neuromuscular performance (jumps, sprints), enhance perceived recovery, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and decrease creatine kinase (CK) levels (a stress marker that indicates muscle damage)[6,7].
Decreasing CK levels may be one of the main benefits of ice baths for fighters. Fighters generally displayhigh levels of CKafter competitive fighting or even hard sparring so decreasing CK levels can help speed up recovery.
In fact, it has been shown that ice baths decreased perceived soreness, the stress hormone cortisol, and fatigue while maintaining jump performance in semi-professional MMA fighters after a simulated match.
So if ice baths work, can’t you just fill your big green rubbish bin with water and ice and go to town? Not so fast there Johnny boy! There are some factors you should consider before jumping in that bucket.
Factors to Consider When Using Ice Baths
The daily tasks for S&C coaches can vary greatly depending on whether you work in a team or individual sport, the level of the club or athlete, what resources and facilities are available, how much of your time has been contracted and perhaps most importantly the club or athlete culture.
Some clubs adopt the All Blacks type philosophy of ‘always sweep the sheds’ whereby an inclusive team approach towards menial non-performance tasks such as filling water bottles, carrying equipment and tidying the changing rooms after training and matches (Kerr, 2013).
Whilst other clubs prefer for the staff to take care of all logistical tasks in order to remove all other non-performance related considerations for the players. It really does relate heavily to the culture the leadership are nurturing and what their individual expectations are of you.
Body Mass & Body Fat
It is important to individualize your ice bath prescription based on your body mass and body fat percentage. Recent research has shown that core body temperature decreases at a faster rate in individuals that have less body mass and lower body fat percentages compared to individuals that have higher body mass and body fat percentages.
A second study reported similar findings when comparing larger football lineman to cross country runners where smaller, leaner cross country runners increased the rate of core temperature reduction greater than football lineman.
They found it’s not just how heavy or lean you are, but also how big you are. The greater surface area of the body also influences cooling rates when ice bathing.
So what is considered as low and high body mass and fat with regards to core body temperature cooling rates?
Duration & Temperature
Now we know that body mass, size, and body fat percentage influences core temperature cooling rates, how can we use this information to prescribe ice baths?
These guidelines are taken fromFrancisco Tavares, who has a Ph.D. in recovery modalities. He likes to categorize ice baths by intensity through these 4 protocols:
Low: 8 minutes at 15ºC;
Moderate-Low: 10 minutes at 15ºC;
Moderate-High: 8 minutes at 10ºC
High: 10 minutes at 10ºC
Low body mass and body fat fighters are likely better to use ice baths in the low and moderate-low intensities. While high body mass, low and high body fat fighters are likely better suited to moderate-high and high-intensity ice baths.
High body mass, high body fat fighters might benefit from greater exposure than the other two body compositions. Muscle temperature remained higher in this group compared to the lower body fat groups after the ice bath.
As skin and muscle reduces and re-warms faster than core temperature, greater exposure for high body mass and body fat fighters can benefit from performing two total sets instead of one. For example, 2 x 10 minutes at 10ºC with up to 10 minutes between.
In fact, performing the above-mentioned protocols in an intermittent fashion (i.e. 2 x 5 min at 15ºC) may be more effective than constant exposure for reducing muscle temperature.
You can measure the temperature of your ice bath easily with a simple floating pool thermometer.
Many people intuitively look for external recovery means like ice baths when they are training more often due to increased soreness or tiredness. Research has shown that those who train only three times a week show no performance benefits when using an ice bath after each session compared to those who don’t.
This was likely because the 48 hours between sessions was enough time to recover between training sessions.
While many fighters probably won’t use an ice path 48 hours or closer to a fight due to weight cutting or other factors, it’s important to note that even if you were to do so, you may want to rethink the idea.
Ice baths have been shown to reduce ankle stiffness up to 48h after even though jump performance is improved. Why is this important? Because ankle or joint stiffness is what allows us to generate high velocities through elastic properties like a spring. Think about bouncing on your feet around the ring.
If your ankle is more pliable, you spend more time on the ground with each bounce and therefore, will be slower to move and react.
Having a joint that is too pliable may also increase the risk of injury due to the increased joint stress. Stiffness is animportant factor for strikingespecially when performing combinations such as switch kicking or double knees.
You may have heard recently that ice baths may blunt muscle growth adaptations from hypertrophy training.
Well, recent research in the Journal of Applied Physiology observed this when putting subjects through a three-day-a-week, seven-week weight training cycle. After each training session, subjects sat in a 10°C ice bath for 15 minutes.
They found that the ice bath decreased the muscle-building response post-exercise. A later study confirmed this response where ice bathing at 8°C for 20 minutes after weight training reduced the delivery and uptake of dietary protein. Which meant it severely blunts muscle protein synthesis (the ability to create new muscle).
This means that if you are in a training block where you are trying to add muscle mass ormove up a weight class, then you should probably avoid using ice baths altogether as a recovery modality.
However, if your training isn’t focused on gaining mass, then ice baths can be a viable recovery strategy. During a fight camp would be a great time to use them as you need to be as fresh as possible leading into a fight and to have the highest quality training sessions.
It should be noted, these studies were performed on untrained individuals who only trained three times a week. A fighter’straining schedulemay have three trainings in a day! With hectic training schedules, a different story emerges when it comes to the use of the ice bath.
When Should You Ice Bath?
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when planning your ice bath recovery. But, we can take all of this information and piece together to create a big picture regarding your ice bath recovery strategy.
To do this, we must consider the goal of your current training block. As we know, if your goal is to put on muscle mass, ice baths are not a good option. It could also be said that using ice baths during preparation training periods could also attenuate other physiological adaptations to training due to decreasing the inflammation response.
This is especially important when dealing with fighters that are relatively new to the sport or a certain training stimulus such as weight training. Since they have more room for improvement due to having a low training age, and the fact they often can’t express their maximum outputs, using ice baths may just slow down their progress.
Inflammation often gets a bad rap, especially in the media. According to the media, inflammation is the devil and we should be making sure we live in a zero inflammation state 24/7.
However, inflammation is what signals our body to adapt. Without this stress, why would our bodies need to become stronger? Or develop the necessary traits to handle higher training loads?
In this case, perhaps using ice baths chronically may slow down the adaptation process when trying to acclimate to a training stimulus.
Conversely, what if ice baths could actually heighten our level of training within a dense training schedule? In fact, this is one of Dr. Francisco Tavares main research points. Elite athletes in any sporting discipline train two or more times a day over consecutive days.
Just think about how much you need to get done as an MMA fighter. Stand-up, wrestling, grappling against the cage, ground game,strength training,conditioning training, and you only have so much time!
Even one discipline combat sports have a lot they need to get done from technical training, sparring, and strength and conditioning. So, can the use of ice baths help in a situation like this?
The only study to date on this topic is by Dr. Francisco Tavares in elite rugby union. Rugby and combat sports have their similarities in that both athletes receive high levels of muscle damage from contacts, collisions, and weight training. Further, they both have jam-packed training schedules.
This particular study ran over three weeks during pre-season which consisted of four training days a week. Players had four weight training sessions, seven on-field rugby sessions, two-speed sessions, and three extra conditioning sessions per week. That’s a total of 16 training sessions in just four days!
After the last training session on each training day, players sat in an ice bath for 10 minutes at 10°C while the control group did nothing.
The ice bath group reduced muscle soreness over the three weeks which lead to attenuating the decline in jump performance (-1.3%) compared to the control group (-7%). This suggests that athletes who used the ice bath were better recovered than those who didn’t.
Further, athletes in the control group saw a decrease in neuromuscular performance on day four of each training week. Meaning, due to increased fatigue throughout the week, athletes are likely to underperform by day four.
Similarly, chronic ice bath use attenuated the decrease in jump performance compared to the control group in volleyball athletes.
We can potentially conclude that using ice baths during periods of increased training volume may maintain high outputs of strength, speed, and power. This means, if you are not a beginner, and don’t have a goal of gaining muscle mass, frequent ice bath use during high training load periods may allow you to have better quality training sessions.
Better quality training sessions potentially means greater improvements in strength, speed, power, and technical ability.
How Many Times a Week Should You Ice Bath?
According to the above research, it can range from once a week to after every training day. It all depends on why you have decided to use the ice bath. One must remember that using external recovery means like the ice bath are the icing on the cake.
Everything else must be in order for you to reap the benefits. Things such as sleep, nutrition, and minimizing external stress should be addressed first before wondering how many ice baths you will take that week.
Secondly, just like with any stimulus, it should be periodized into your training year. Why? Because if you decided to ice bath five times a week for 52 weeks of the year, you start to adapt to the recovery stimulus.
As you adapt, the recovery response to the ice bath starts to diminish. How long does it take for this to happen? I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone has an exact number on this. However, it is a gradual process like anything is regarding physiological adaptation.
To mitigate this potentially happening to you, use the ice bath when you have high training load periods or you are leading into acompetitive fight. Other than that, use other recovery modalities instead such as massage, contrast baths, foam rolling, or whatever else you have at your disposal.
Can Cold Showers Do The Same Thing?
Many of you may not have the equipment or space to set your own ice bath up. And when you get into a freezing cold shower, you may feel it’s doing the same thing anyway. But how true is this?
A recent study had subjects stand in a cold shower for 15 minutes at 15°C after exercising in the heat. They found that the cold shower did not decrease core body temperature, cortisol, or heart rate any more than the control group.
However, 30 minutes after, the cold shower group experienced lower heart rates than the control and also perceived themselves to feel better. These findings suggest that you won’t get the same physiological recovery stimulus as you would when ice bathing, but the strategy is so easy to implement that it is well worth it just for the potential decrease in cardiac stress and to feel refreshed.
About the Author
James de Lacey
James de Lacey
Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Romanian Rugby Union.
James is currently the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is a published author and has completed an MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.
To visit James’ websitefor more, clickhere
Reference List (click here to open)
1. Stephens, J. M., Halson, S. L., Miller, J., Slater, G. J., & Askew, C. D. (2018). Influence of body composition on physiological responses to post-exercise hydrotherapy.Journal of Sports Sciences,36(9), 1044-1053.
2. Godek, S. F., Morrison, K. E., & Scullin, G. (2017). Cold-Water Immersion Cooling Rates in Football Linemen and Cross-Country Runners With Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia.Journal of athletic training,52(10), 902-909.
3. Barber, S., John, P., Brown, F., & Hill, J. (2017). The Efficacy of Repeated Cold Water Immersion on Recovery Following a Simulated Rugby Union Protocol.Journal of strength and conditioning research.
4. Broatch, J. R., Petersen, A., & Bishop, D. J. (2017). Cold-water immersion following sprint interval training does not alter endurance signaling pathways or training adaptations in human skeletal muscle.American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology,313(4), R372-R384.
5. Kositsky, A., & Avela, J. (2020). The effects of cold water immersion on the recovery of drop jump performance and mechanics: a pilot study in under-20 soccer players.Frontiers in Sports and Active Living,2, 17.
6. Tavares, F., Beaven, M., Teles, J., Baker, D., Healey, P., Smith, T. B., & Driller, M. (2019). Effects of chronic cold-water immersion in elite rugby players.International journal of sports physiology and performance,14(2), 156-162.
7. Tavares, F., Beaven, M., Silvestre, R., Teles, J., Baker, D., Healey, P., … & Driller, M. The effect of cold water immersion during a pre-season week in elite rugby athletes.
8. Fyfe, J. J., Broatch, J. R., Trewin, A. J., Hanson, E. D., Argus, C. K., Garnham, A. P., … & Petersen, A. C. (2019). Cold water immersion attenuates anabolic signaling and skeletal muscle fiber hypertrophy, but not strength gain, following whole-body resistance training.Journal of Applied Physiology,127(5), 1403-1418.
9. Fuchs, C. J., Kouw, I. W., Churchward‐Venne, T. A., Smeets, J. S., Senden, J. M., van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D., … & van Loon, L. J. (2020). Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes.The Journal of physiology,598(4), 755-772.
10. Lindsay, A., Carr, S., Cross, S., Petersen, C., Lewis, J. G., & Gieseg, S. P. (2017). The physiological response to cold-water immersion following a mixed martial arts training session.Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism,42(5), 529-536.
11. Tavares, F., Simões, M., Matos, B., Smith, B. T., & Driller, M. (2020). The acute and longer-term effects of cold water immersion in highly-trained volleyball athletes during an intense training block.Frontiers in Sports and Active Living,2, 143.
12. Ajjimaporn, A., Chaunchaiyakul, R., Pitsamai, S., & Widjaja, W. (2019). Effect of Cold Shower on Recovery From High-Intensity Cycling in the Heat.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research,33(8), 2233-2240.
Do you use ice baths with your athletes? Let us know if you below…
Is there any scientific evidence for ice baths? ›
While research has in fact confirmed that ice baths can be helpful for reducing muscle soreness, its effects on the formation of new proteins in the body, important for repairing and building muscle, are more controversial.What is the science behind ice bath recovery? ›
The ice bath will cause constriction of blood vessels. This has been suggested as a mechanism that helps with the flushing of waste products, such as lactic acid, out of the affected tissue.Do ice baths actually work for athletes and their recovery? ›
The cold temperature will also reduce swelling and tissue breakdown and shift lactic acid away from your muscles. When you get out of an ice bath, your muscle tissues and your entire body will begin to warm up, which causes your circulation to increase and your muscles to relax.What is the new research on ice baths? ›
After 12 weeks of training, researchers found that ice baths attenuate muscle growth. In addition, unlike the previous study mentioned, they also found it mitigated strength gains! It was discovered that along with reducing the core body temperature, ice baths significantly reduced muscle temperature.Is there science behind cold plunge? ›
Plunging the body into cold water triggers a sudden, rapid increase in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure known as the cold shock response. That can cause a person to drown within seconds if they involuntarily gasp while their head is submerged. The shock also places stress on the heart and makes it work harder.What is the Physiology behind an ice bath? ›
The idea behind ice baths is that by reducing body temperature, this in turn reduces blood flow, swelling and inflammation in tissues of the muscles. It's the same concept as the one behind icing a sprained ankle.Do ice baths speed up muscle recovery? ›
Taking an ice bath, especially after strength training, will help accelerate recovery and reduce fatigue by preventing inflammation, stimulating the central nervous system, and developing regulated breathing.Does ice actually help recovery? ›
Although cold therapy typically slows the soft tissue swelling to some extent, it does not hasten the recovery process.Do ice baths increase testosterone? ›
Make Ice Baths Part of Your Journey to Sexual Wellness
The link between cold therapy and improved sexual wellness is strong and backed by science. Taking a dip in cold water could help raise your testosterone levels, give your libido a boost and even help with fertility challenges.
Cold-water immersion, also known as an ice bath, is a recovery regimen usually done following intense exercise where you dunk yourself in a tub of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes.
How long should athletes stay in ice bath? ›
Try to stay in the ice bath for as long as you can, but do not exceed 15 minutes. It is recommended to work up to the recommended 15 minutes without pushing your body beyond its limits.How many times a week should an athlete take an ice bath? ›
Ice baths can be used as needed after intense workouts or once or twice a week if you are training regularly, King noted. One thing to keep in mind is that for athletes who do this more frequently, this is part of their job, King said, and they have a whole team helping them.What is the difference between cryotherapy and an ice bath? ›
The reason why Cryotherapy is better is because it uses dry cryogenically cooled air to reduce the skin's temperature while an ice bath uses wet cold which can cause muscle tissue to congeal making them pretty immobile.What are the scientific benefits of a cold bath? ›
More robust immune response.
Scientific studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the number of white blood cells in your body. These blood cells protect your body against diseases. Researchers believe that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response.
The easiest way to test the accuracy of any thermometer is in a properly made ice bath. If you do this carefully, your ice bath will be 0°C within ±0.1°C. If you are not careful, the ice bath can be off by several whole degrees. (Just a cup with ice water in it can be 12 or more degrees too high.)Who should not do cold plunges? ›
“If you're taking medications to reduce blood pressure, cold water immersion can be dangerous because that secondary drop, when the cold blood goes back to the heart, reduces blood pressure,” Hill said.What are the negative side effects of cold plunge? ›
Risks of an icy plunge
Risks associated with cold exposure include frostbite, hypothermia, heart arrhythmias and even heart attacks. "It's not a completely benign activity," Dr. Zaslow says. "Talk to your doctor to make sure that no harm comes from a fun activity that is intended to help your health."
Furthermore, the National Center for Cold Water Safety warns that because blood vessels constrict in response to sudden cooling, cold water immersion causes an instant and massive increase in heart rate and blood pressure which increases the danger of heart failure and stroke.What chemical is released during an ice bath? ›
Abstract. The hypothermic stress of immersion in cold water stimulates release of norepinephrine from the sympathetic nervous system.What is the scientific evidence of cold water immersion? ›
Just 3 cold water sessions over a 6 week period was shown to increase lymphocyte numbers. Lymphocytes are one of the body's main types of immune cells. One study even found that males exposed to 4°c for only 30 minutes showed an increased number of virus-eliminating cells called 'Killer T cells'.
Do ice baths release cortisol? ›
Lower cortisol levels
Researchers note that when people immerse themselves in a bath of cold water, their cortisol levels drop.
Past research reveals that submerging your body in cold water increases dopamine concentrations by 250 percent. Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone because of the key role it plays in regulating mood, per the Cleveland Clinic.Do ice baths tighten muscles? ›
The Impact of Ice Baths
Sitting in an ice bath or cold tub after intense exercise causes blood vessels in arm and leg muscles to tighten or constrict, resulting in blood moving closer to the core and heart to maintain warmth.
The actual timing of the ice bath can be up to you, but we would recommend it on the earlier side of the day. Dunking into a cold tub will genuinely give you a boost of energy, and unless you are a hardcore night owl, your cold therapy will work best in the morning.What temperature is best for muscle recovery? ›
Hot 'n' cold
Forget freezing in an ice-bath, using contrasting temperatures is the best way to boost recovery, according to the Journal of Science and Cycling. Try standing under a cold shower (around 12 degrees celsius) for 1 minute and then turning up the temperature (to around 40 degrees celsius) for 3 minutes.
Eating ice stimulates blood flow to the head (and the brain), which gives a temporary boost to alertness and clarity of thought.What happens if you ice for more than 20 minutes? ›
Greater than 20 minutes of icing can cause reactive vasodilation, or widening, of the vessels as the body tries to make sure the tissues get the blood supply they need. Studies have also shown 30 to 40 minutes in between icing sessions are needed to counter this reaction.Do ice baths increase mitochondria? ›
There is evidence that cold therapy improves mitochondrial health through a process known as “mitochondrial biogenesis,” or in other words, by producing more of them. Cold therapy can be compelling because it forces you to become comfortable with discomfort. It is as much mental training as a physiological one.Do ice baths increase blood flow? ›
When you get out of an ice bath, your blood vessels dilate, or re-open, increasing circulation. The nutrient-rich blood flow to your muscles may help remove metabolic waste that builds up during exercise. That's another reason people use ice baths for post-workout recovery.Do ice baths release endorphins? ›
The cold water sends many electrical impulses to your brain. They jolt your system to increase alertness, clarity, and energy levels. Endorphins, which are sometimes called happiness hormones, are also released.
Do pro athletes take ice baths? ›
There are plenty of professional athletes, and even your weekend warriors, that swear by the ice bath. From elite runners and weightlifters, to football and basketball players, the post-workout ice bath is a common part of a recovery routine for many athletes.What should an athlete do after an ice bath? ›
Rush to take a warm shower immediately after the ice bath.What are the pros and cons of ice baths? ›
- Reduce Muscle Damage From Certain Workouts. ...
- Reduce Inflammation and Swelling. ...
- Numb Certain Types of Pain. ...
- Improve Your Mood. ...
- Can Cause Hypothermia. ...
- Make Tight or Stiff Muscles Worse. ...
- Reduce the Efficacy of Strength Training. ...
- Pose a Risk to People With Cardiac Conditions.
The general consensus from the literature is that the ideal length of an ice bath is 11-15 minutes. This maximizes the cryotherapy benefits of cold water immersion without inducing excessive stress or putting tissues at risk of frostbite or the body at risk of hypothermia.What temp should an ice bath be? ›
How cold should the water be? Water turns to ice at 0 degrees Celsius / 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For an ice bath, the water should be around 10-15 degrees Celsius (around 50-60 Fahrenheit).Is a 5 minute ice bath long enough? ›
The optimal ice bath temperature is 10 to 15 degrees Celsius or 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice Barrel recommends soaking in an ice bath for 5 to 10 minutes, with a cap at 15 minutes. Spending longer than 15 minutes is spent in an ice bath at the suggested temperature increases your risk of hypothermia.What should you do after an ice bath? ›
After your ice bath, you'll need to dry off and get into warm clothes to bring your body temperature up. Stage your post-bath clothes in the bathroom before you enter the bath so you can access them quickly.Can an ice bath be too cold? ›
The recommended temperature for an ice bath is from 39-60 degrees Fahrenheit - a temperature cold enough to chill your body but not to the freezing point. If you need to start in the upper 50's or 60 to get adjusted, feel free to do that. It's probably a good idea even if you think you can handle colder.What is better than an ice bath? ›
As compared to an ice bath, a Cryotherapy session is highly comfortable and offers many additional advantages while at the same time eliminating the major risk factors associated with an ice bath.Do ice baths remove toxins? ›
The Cold causes your lymph vessels to contract, forcing your lymphatic system to pump lymph fluids throughout your body, flushing the waste through. This then triggers the immune system's white blood cells to attack and destroy any unwanted substance in the fluid.
Why is ice bath better than cryotherapy? ›
Ice Bath Benefits
Like cryotherapy, ice baths can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain from working out, but unlike cryotherapy, ice baths are also helpful in boosting your immune system, increasing your circulation, and even elevating your mood!
After 30 days of cold showers, most individuals report feeling more alert, having more energy, having healthier skin and hair, improved mental health and resilience, improved circulation, and more.Are ice baths proven to work? ›
However, ice baths may decrease gains in strength and muscle growth. A 2015 study in the Journal of Physiology showed decreased long-term gains in muscle mass and strength, which is in line with a 2014 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research which showed decreases in strength using cold immersion.How should you breathe in an ice bath? ›
“Simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” he says. “Try not to have a pause on the inhale or exhale.” He advises 30 repetitions of this, and then relaxing and breathing normally, to prepare your body and mind for the cold water.What are the disadvantages of ice baths? ›
- Hypothermia and frost bite. Exposure to extreme heat or freezing cold for prolonged periods may not good for the body. ...
- Painful experience. Getting into an icy bath isn't for the faint of heart—especially if you get in quickly. ...
- Heart disease.
A small 2017 study showed that ice baths may not be as beneficial as once thought, but many medical professionals — especially those who work with serious athletes — still consider them useful. And a 2021 study of college soccer players showed that cold water immersion therapy promotes basic post-sport recovery.What's the longest you should stay in an ice bath? ›
Try to stay in the ice bath for as long as you can, but do not exceed 15 minutes. It is recommended to work up to the recommended 15 minutes without pushing your body beyond its limits. Wear warm clothing on the top part of your body to keep the exposed areas of yourself warm.