Reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery with a post-exercise cold plunge.
The last thing you probably want to do after a run or a ride is soak in a bathtub full of ice. But research shows cold exposure after exercise significantly reduces muscle soreness and helps you return more rapidly back to baseline performance.
This blog post will explain why athletes take ice baths for recovery, highlighting several key benefits of cold exposure. We’ll also walk you through how to take your first ice bath.
What are the benefits of ice baths?
The benefits of cold exposure, including ice baths, are as follows:
- Decreased muscle soreness — ice baths constrict the blood vessels to flush out waste products, including lactic acid.
- Boosted metabolism — the body generates heat by increasing your metabolism when exposed to the cold.
- Improved mood — imulates an increase in adrenaline and epinephrine, enhancing the release of dopamine which makes you feel good.
How to take an ice bath
Taking an ice bath is straightforward — it’s the plunge that is the hard part.
If you don’t have a bath at home, or if you prefer a more convenient set up, you can install a bath, a barrel, or a cold plunge in your garden, garage, or outdoor space. A lot of the options are relatively expensive, but there are more affordable options available, such as the Lumi Recovery Pod Ice Bath.
And if you’re going old school and using the tub, you’ll need to set it up before each use.
To take an ice bath at home:
- Fill your bath with cold water (approximately half full).
- Empty 1-2 bags of ice into the water.
- Wait 5-10 minutes — this allows the ice to reduce the temperature further.
- Get into the bath — anywhere between 5-15 minutes is best for maximum results.
If you don’t have ice or don’t want to use ice, then cold water exposure also works. But for the best results, ice is recommended. Likewise, if you don’t have a bath, you can take a cold shower for similar results.
And if you’re extra hardcore, you can fill a wheelie bin full of ice and soak in that.
How cold should your ice bath be?As Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and host of the Huberman Lab podcast would say, it should be uncomfortably cold, in that you want to get out, but the temperature is safe to stay in.
What should you wear?Wear a bathing suit or a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to protect your skin from the cold.
How often should an athlete ice bath?
As often as they can manage. But soaking in the ice is particularly beneficial after a hard interval session, race, or workout.
Why are ice baths good for athletes?
Ice baths may help enhance recovery, decrease muscle soreness, and improve performance, making them a great tool for athletes.
When should you use the ice bath?
Some people choose to take an ice bath directly after training. But previous studies suggest this may inhibit muscle mass and strength. Instead, you may wish to wait a few hours before soaking in the ice. But the choice is up to you!
Ice baths are a fantastic tool for athletes
Cold therapy, including ice baths, can decrease muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and enhance recovery. When done correctly and safely, they can be an excellent tool for athletes and even those who do not work out.
And if you’re really not a fan of cold water exposure, you can try our cooling sports cream after a workout instead — it reduces inflammation and boosts recovery.
Image credit: Gilly Photography
cold exposure after exercise significantly reduces muscle soreness https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1440244008000388
may inhibit muscle mass and strength https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938508/