Triathletes often think, “How much training can I do?” What rarely comes to mind is, “How much and how well can I recover after training?” One of the best ways to aid an athlete’s recovery is through ice baths. An ice bath is when one submerges part of his or her body in ice-cold water.
Why are ice baths needed? While exercising, small microtears in tendons, ligaments and muscles are created. To help aid the healing of these microtears the body pumps more blood to these areas so white blood cells can repair the damaged tissue. This creates swelling. These microtears are actually good because the body will repair the damaged muscle to be even stronger and better at handling the training stimulus that is placed on it. However, these small tears can cause delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) along with the swelling described earlier.
Ice baths are a great way to combat the side effects created through triathlon training. Ice baths will help one close the microtear damage. This means swelling is kept to a minimum. The baths also help flush out any excess waste products as more circulation happens due to the cold submersion.
How can one set up and use an ice bath to be beneficial in recovery? Often athletes and coaches use large trash buckets to hold the cold water and ice. This allows the athletes to soak their legs. The water should not be extremely cold, as research has shown an adverse effect on the muscles and their recovery if the temperature is 40F (5 C) or below. Best results are yielded at temperatures in the range of 50 to 60F degrees (10 to 15 C). The length of the submersion should be 5-12 minutes.
Using ice packs to mimic the same environment as an ice bath does not work as well. Ice packs have been shown that they do not keep the muscle temperature low for as long after exposure as does immersion in an ice bath; one’s muscle temperature warms up much more rapidly due to one’s blood flow rushing back quicker. Ice baths are something that I have used and they have made my legs feel great after long workouts. A few studies have also confirmed the beneficial results from using cold-water submersion to lessen recovery time
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