To start, let's discuss why an ice bath is typically taken.
The cold temperatures from the bath force blood vessels to constrict, and when the body returns to a normal temperature outside of the bath, the blood flow is increased in such a way that is thought to speed up the healing process after a hard workout.
So, does this mean everyone should take a bath full of freezing ice after every workout?
Here are the pros and cons of the great question: To take, or not to take?
Pro: A larger area of the body can be treated.
Many athletes and normal people use ice packs to treat sore muscles. The benefit of an ice bath is that people are able to ice pack their entire bodies without much effort.
They just sink in and try to enjoy. In essence, the ice bath is the lazy person's ice pack.
Con: It is possible to cause more harm than good.
An overexposure to cold temperatures, especially when you are completely immersed in them, can be dangerous.
If you want to take an ice bath, anything over 10 minutes is a no-go. Also, don't assume the colder the bath is, the more effective it will be. That is completely false.
Jumping straight from a cold bath to a warm shower can also completely erase all potential benefits.
Think about jumping into a hot tub after being in the pool for an hour or vice versa. It's not pleasant.
Pro: The effects can be very beneficial after a tough workout.
Some of the potential effects include the constriction of blood vessels and the flushing of metabolic debris, like lactic acid, from tired muscles.
Ice baths have also been shown to decrease metabolic activity and slow down some of the physiological process that takes place after exercising.
Additionally, ice baths reduce blood flow, which can reduce swelling and the speed of tissue breakdown in the body.
Con: There is not definitive research to support the benefits of an ice bath.
While the claims to an ice bath's benefits are vast, there is no actual proof to back any of them up. Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a sports medicine doctor who coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), claims:
"About all icing is good for is a placebo effect. There’s no evidence that icing speeds healing or makes you stronger; in fact, it makes you weaker so you can’t do your next hard workout."
Pro: Many elite athletes swear by the ice bath.
Many celebrities and professional athletes have shared their methods of recovery, which include the ice bath.
Nikki Kimball, a physical therapist and previous USATF "Ultrarunner of the Year," said of her experience:
"I have been running ultramarathons for nearly 10 years without any significant injuries, and I credit my ritual of post-workout ice baths for much of my orthopedic health".
She also shared some of her personal methods for making an ice bath more tolerable:
"Before getting in, I put on a down jacket and a hat and neoprene booties, make myself a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 to 20 minutes pass quickly."
Con: IT'S COLD.
I'm not sure about you, but I actually really enjoy the cold. Living in Tampa puts me at the wrong end of the spectrum, but asking me to jump in a literal ice cold bath is pushing it just a little.
After a workout, all I want to do is veg on the couch and watch Netflix until my body stops aching. Nothing is going to get me in contact with ice, except if I need some for my drinking water.
But, if you are willing to try it, go for it. Just remember, Netflix will always be there for you when you're finished.