Ice Baths at Home: Optimise Recovery and Gain the Benefits

Woman sitting in an ice bath, recovering from physical activity and gaining benefits

Ice baths can increase your recovery and improve your physical performance

Recovery from exercise is crucial when engaging in physical activity, especially when in a repeated schedule or a competitive environment for athletes. Ice baths enable muscular repair and growth, energy restoration and injury prevention, leading to optimal performance and a transformation.

Cold water therapy is a hugely popular and well-known recovery method, utilised by a variety of celebrities including Lady Gaga, LeBron James and Chris Hemsworth. 

When engaging with Intense physical activity, it creates microtrauma and tears in the muscle fibres. These micro-tears will trigger the body’s repair process and stimulate muscle cell activity, leading to muscle growth. 

This is the explanation for experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) 12-72 hours post exercise, being a normal response, which means muscles are adapting and becoming stronger. 

These ice baths can help repair these muscular tears and hence help the body repair much faster

2 women sitting and relaxing in an ice bath gaining physiological benefits
Edgar Barragan Juarez / Getty Images

What exactly is an ice bath?

An ice bath is a passive-active recovery method, utilised by many elite athletes and anyone engaging with physical activity. 

What are the physical benefits of ice baths?

As mentioned by Fatimah Lateef, author of ‘Journal of emergencies trauma, and shock’ in the national library of medicine, Ice baths cause a constriction of blood vessels which is suggested to act as a mechanism for flushing out waste products such as lactic acid. 

That feeling of running as hard as possible, but the muscles won’t allow efficient movement is an example of lactic acid.

 The cold temperatures of ice baths will also help increase cardiac output, helping with enhanced blood flow and nutrient distributions to reduce swelling. 

What are the mental benefits of ice baths?

Whilst the prime objective of ice baths are to improve physical recovery, psychological benefits can play a significant role in enhancing overall well-being and performance.

woman sitting smiling and relaxing in an ice bath gaining physiological benefits

Mental health Benefits include:

  1. Stress relief: the natural stress response is triggered and can lead to the release of endorphins.
  2. Improved mood: The release of chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are associated with happiness and improved moods. Endorphins
  3. Enhanced mental toughness: The discomfort of ice baths required mental toughness and discipline. This is an important skill to acquire as it will teach the athlete how to tolerate challenging and uncomfortable situations, in training and off training.

What are the methods of using an ice bath?

The topic surrounding the methods to conduct an ice bath remains complex, differing from everyone based on their personal preference. 

There are two main ways to use ice baths:

  1. Complete water immersion 
  2. Contrast water therapy

Complete water immersion

woman using breathing exercises and relaxing in an ice bath gaining physiological benefits

The ice bath should be at 12-15 degrees Celsius to ensure a reduction in waste occurs. The athlete will then completely immerse themselves up to their neck, only having their head out of the water. They must stay in the water for at least 10 minutes, and maximum 20 minutes. 

Although, there is a simple formula to follow for measuring how long to stay in the ice bath, especially if it is under 12 degrees Celcius;

Each degree= 1 minute

For example, if you have an ice bath that is 7 degrees, your aim is to stay in there for 7 minutes.

Contrast water therapy

people sitting in different contrast water therapy baths
Contrast water therapy baths at Recovery

Contrast water therapy is the action of alternating between immersion in cold and warm water, sometimes being a preferred method for an ice bath. Contrast immersion is a valid method for increasing the decline in lactate levels during recovery in comparison to regular water immersion. 

The common practice ratio of warm to cold duration is generally 3:1 or 4:1, with the warm water ranging from 37- 43 degrees Celsius and the cold water being at 12-15 degrees celcius. The total duration guide is 1-5 minutes in each cold and water baths, repeated twice. It is important to finish the contrast immersion on the cold treatment to encourage the constriction of blood cells in the athlete for optimal recovery. 

How to take Safe ice baths for recovery

Without taking safety precautions for ice baths, this practice can lead to intense discomfort, hypothermia and even shock. 

Follow these steps for an enjoyable ice bath experience to boost recovery and optimise performance: 

  1. Fill a tub with cold water

1-3 bags of ice in a tub halfway filled will help you get optimal water temperature, being 12-15 degrees celcius

woman filling up an ice bath with a bag of ice, smiling and outdoors

2. Set up post bath clothing

To bring up body temperature, it is important to dry off and get into warm clothes instantly. This requires clothes to be set up and placed nearby.

3. Wear appropriate attire. 

To protect the skin, socks and gloves can be worn in ice baths. Some people also choose to wear shorts and t-shirts to feel more comfortable.

Woman with gloves and a beanie on in ice water practicing safe cold water therapy

4. Set an alarm

Depending on whether complete immersion or contrast immersion will be conducted, ensure the alarm is prepared.

5. Enter the ice bath

Slowly submerge the feet, legs and waist into the ice bath. If entered too quick, your system can be shocked. Remember to take deep breaths and remain calm. The body will become numb after a few minutes of being submerged. Consider tools for managing the cold such as meditation.

6. Get out and warm up

Slowly exit the ice bath, remove wet clothes and towel off before getting into warm and dry clothes. 

If you do not want to have an ice bath at home, In Sydney there are many places for ice bath services:

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