One of the things I really appreciate is being able to research something and get input from someone that has done the same thing, purchased the same thing, or has specific input surrounding the item I am researching. That’s what leads me to the topic of this post – Ice Baths.
When going through my training for Chicago, I had read several articles that touted the advantages of ice baths in the recovery from long runs. At first I didn’t seriously think about incorporating it into my recovery. However after I hit the 15 mile mark and I ended up being pretty sore the rest of the day and the next day afterwards, I started considering it as an option to try.
The question I had though was – how do I go about it? I had read plenty of articles on why ice baths were good for your recovery but had trouble finding a lot of information in regards to the best way to go about it. I fumbled my way through it the first time and since then have found some tips to help the overall experience.
Normally after my long runs I am tired and sweaty and really just want to grab a shower. So the ice bath is not on the top of the list of things I am wanting to figure out after the run so I always like to plan it out prior to going for the run.
- Lay out a couple of towels. – 1 to dry off with and 1 to help dry the floor from the ice dripping
- Plan for where you are going to get the ice – bagged or from the freezer
- Plan for any clothing to help in the process
Especially now that it is colder, I want to have all of those things figured out because I am normally soaked with sweat(even in the sub freezing temperatures) just from the 3+ hours of running and it is easy to talk yourself out of the ice bath after you get inside and warm up a bit. So with all of the above figured out early, I normally come straight in and start by filling the tub up with all a mix of luke-warm water mixed with straight cold water. This helps A LOT, because I normally will get into the tub while the water is running and BEFORE adding the ice. As I become more accustomed the temperature of the water I slowly start moving the water temp to all cold water and fill it up just to the point that it is at waist level when sitting down.
Once the water is at the right level, I slowly add the ice. It is important to plan for enough ice. If you are depending on just using the ice out of your freezer, it may not be enough to sufficiently cool the water and you may need to add additional ice. Bagged ice works best but that also involves planning ahead and having a place to keep the ice until you are back from running. In either case you want enough ice to completely cover the surface of the water if not just a little more.
The other tip I have picked up after doing this several times is that clothing can be your friend. I normally go straight to the ice bath in my running shorts. Beyond that I had a friend suggest using a sweatshirt or light jacket that you don’t mind getting wet. This makes a big difference! The overall goal is not to make yourself cold, but to allow the cold water to decrease any inflammation of the joints and muscles. So by adding a jacket or sweatshirt you can at least keep your upper body warmer.
The other thing I have noticed is that after sitting in the ice water for a few minutes the water immediately surrounding your legs warms a bit from the heat of your body. To maximize the effectiveness of the ice bath, move your legs around a bit. This does two things,
- 1. It keeps you from having the pocket of warmer water around your legs, and
- 2. it keeps your muscles moving to help you from getting stiff sitting in the cold water.
Normally 10 minutes is plenty of time after you have the ice in the water. By that point my feet normally are hurting from the cold and I am more than ready to get out.
I am not going to lie and say that is is easy or fun even. In fact it can be pretty tough to get yourself convinced that you can really do it after you get in the cold water. However, the difference between the times that I have used an ice bath after my long run versus the times I haven’t are amazing. The last 20 miler I ran, I wasn’t able to get in an ice bath due to my kids having basketball games scheduled that morning and I was incredibly sore and tired the next day. Compare that with the days I am able to get an ice bath and I am hardly ever sore or tired the day after. In fact the last two times that I have added an ice bath after a long run, the next day I was actually able to get in a great shorter recovery run.
Give it a shot and see if it works. Worst case scenario, you can tell your friends that you are hardcore enough to have taken an ice bath …. or just that you decided to wash your running clothes in cold water instead of hot