“Difficult things aren’t easy, but they’re worth it.”
– Mia Love
Ice Baths and Performance
For years professional athletes have been taking ice baths after big games and tough practices to repair their bodies. There are mounds of research to show that this practice helps with injuries, soreness, and rehabilitation. Athletes can prolong their careers with an ice bath regiment, and the top NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL trainers have published a large amount of research on the topic.
“Cold exposure following a hard workout has long been proposed as a method to reduce tissue swelling due to muscle breakdown and help decrease inflammation. According to Dr. Mike Reinold, head physical therapist for the Boston Red Sox, ‘the proposed mechanisms of this includes reducing inflammation, flushing out muscles due to constriction of blood cells, decreasing metabolic activity, and compressing the muscles through hydrostatic pressure.’” – Men’s Fitness Article
Of course, ice baths are not easy to take, even for tough athletes like baseball players or UFC fighters. Getting into the ice can be part of a strict training regiment that world renowned trainers prescribe, but the athletes have a difficult time adhering to.
Watch the video below to see MMA fighters getting into ice baths. My favorite is at 3:14 when the fighter has to literally be held down into the water by his crew because he can’t stand the cold.
“Yes but Ice baths are for professional athletes only.”
I know what you are thinking at this point. It’s no surprise that professional athletes would sit in the ice, but why on earth would anyone else do it?
Most likely you believe that ice baths and cold water therapy are for professional athletes only, and there’s no reason you would ever consider trying it for yourself. That is fair. I felt the same way until I started reading up and found seven reasons to take an ice bath. Of course, there is a lot of research on the effects of cold water therapy, but for the sake of brevity (and laziness), I’ll keep it short here and you can do your own research if you don’t believe it.
Effects of Cold Water Therapy:
- Speeds up muscle recovery and helps with muscle soreness by reducing inflammation
- Burns calories and speeds up metabolism
- Promotes healthy skin and hair
- Lifts your mood and can even possibly cure depression (research here)
- Boosts immunity
- Improves blood circulation
- Helps in the practice of discipline, challenging of the mind, and getting intentionally uncomfortable for the sake of personal growth
Why I decided to give ice baths a try
I admit if I were reading this post up until now I probably would not be convinced, and you probably aren’t either. But about nine months ago I began experimenting with cold showers, and that was step-one in the direction of ice bath nirvana. After finally “sucking it up” and doing my first freezing cold shower back in May, I felt amazing (I wrote about it here). For months now I have been experiencing the benefits of cold showers on my mood, my health, and my thinking. I believe that cold showers made me more alert, made me sleep better, and made me better at work and in my relationships. And after experiencing these benefits, whether they were real or placebo, I figured it was time to take it to the next level and see if I could reap rewards from ice baths too. The cold showers were still serving their purpose as a deliberate “mind over matter” practice, but I figured if I wanted to step it up a notch is was either take an ice bath or walk across a bed of hot coals. I’ll take the ice.
So finally, last week I tried my first ice bath and I loved it. Was it challenging? Absolutely it was, but more in a “hurts so good” kind of way, not much different from a scalding hot tub or a deep tissue massage.
If you decide to follow my lead and take your own polar plunge in your bath tub any time soon, here is a quick brief on how to do it. I’m still experimenting with this and will continue to test, but as an “N of 1,” I still feel confident telling you that this will work for you too.
How to Take Your First Ice Bath
What you will need:
- Ice (duh)
- I bought a 20lb bag of ice from a gas station for $4.00
- I recommend starting at 20 lbs. You can add more ice later, but don’t over do it on the first one
- A timer
- I used my iPhone timer, but if you are worried about mixing electronics and water, find a manual one like this one for $7.00
- A bath (duh again?)
- Two clean towels
- Something to distract you
- Will power
- Make up your mind and do it!
How long to stay in:
- 6 minutes (no longer)
- Start here to build confidence and make sure you can handle it. 6 minutes is just long enough to make it past the “very uncomfortable” stage and just short enough to ensure no health risks with hypothermia or other health affects. (PS, this is a good time to say ‘I am not a doctor and you should discuss with your physician before trying this.’)
Other helpful tips:
- Doing this naked didn’t feel right to me (sorry for the visual). I wore compression pants and a compression shirt. I had read somewhere that compression tights would help, although I don’t know what affect it would have had. Either way, doing this fully clothed felt a little less weird than doing it in my birthday suit.
- Leave your hands and head outside of the bath. This helps regulate your body temperature.
- Listen to something motivational if you think you might need it:
- As mentioned, I was listening to the audio version of The Magic of Thinking Big, a great book about, well, thinking big. The nature of the book gave me the willpower I needed to stay in the ice for the full six minutes.
- If you don’t want to buy an audio book, here are a few other options on youtube:
Important final tip: Once you get out of the bath, wrap yourself in the two towels, one around your body and one around your feet, and DO NOT get into a hot shower to warm-up or you may lose a lot of the benefits you just suffered for. If you are still cold more than 15 minutes later, feel free to take a shower, but no sooner. Odds are you will warm up within a few short minutes and you will feel amazing.
Good luck with your first ice bath. If you try it, please leave a comment and let me know how it goes. If this is a little too crazy for you – try a cold shower to start. (See how easy a cold shower sounds after discussing ice baths?)
“The reality is, discipline is your best friend. It will take care of you like nothing else can. It will put you on that path. The path to strength and health and intelligence and happiness.”
– Jocko Willink, in the above mentioned “Epic Speech on Discipline”
Some other resources that add context and information:
- The Wim Hoff Method: http://highexistence.com/the-wim-hof-method-revealed-how-to-consciously-control-your-immune-system/
- Benefits of Cold Therapy on Men’s Fitness: http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/benefits-of-cold-therapy
- The Minnesota Polar Plunge: http://www.plungemn.org/
- Ice Bucket Challenge: http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/ice-bucket-challenge.html?