chill out with an ice bath



In the running world, there’s nothing better and yet more daunting than voluntarily stepping waist deep into a tub of freezing cold water. Ice baths may sound mind-numbingly crazy, yet most runners find themselves craving the relief that comes after withstanding 10-minutes of this torture.

lululemon ice bath
Create your own ice bath. Brrr!

Ice baths are great for general recovery. They help relieve those nagging, little injuries before they turn into big problems. The ice-cold water causes your blood vessels to constrict and this helps to reduce inflammation. Once you get out of the tub your legs will develop this fantastic melting feeling as the blood flow returns to normal and you’re well on your way to recovery!

in the ice bath

Ice baths are easy to make! Simply fill your tub with cold water and add as many ice cubes as you can find. To stock up on ice cubes simply empty your ice cube trays into a freezer bag and refill the trays, repeat until the bag is full. If you’re low on trays (and high on freezer space) you can buy ice bags from the grocery store. Using the cold tubs at your gym or physiotherapy centre is another great option if it’s available.

All of these methods get the job done with minimal mess and maximal recovery but my favorite ice bath option is to finish the run by standing in the ocean! This ice bath offers complete convenience and breathtaking scenery.

lululemon ice bath temperature

Choose recovery and make an ice bath of your own. Try to make the temperature between 10-15 °C and stay in the tub for ten minutes. That’s all there is to it!

tips for withstanding the torment:

  • sip warm tea or hot chocolate while sitting in the tub
  • wrap a towel around your neck
  • read a novel

Post-run recovery is arguably as important as training itself. Putting the same effort into what you do after the run will help you feel great during the next workout. Let us know if you discover any other distraction techniques for surviving your ice bath.

This post was written by Rebecca, an educator at lululemon Robson. She's a track and field athlete specializing in the 800 metres. Her background is in Kinesiology and broadcast journalism.

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11 Comments »


I liked your article, however many studies have inconclusive results showing any benefit to ice baths after workouts despite it being a routine of many athletes. I am surprised that you did not mention any of the dangers an ice bath could pose if not done correctly, especially if you warm up too quickly. It has potential damage your extremities, heart, vasculature, and your brain (there is a reason why they are used as treatments for brain injuries and heart attacks). You can experience cold water shock (initially an increase in heart rate, increased blood pressure), just as you would if you fell into cold water at sea. Ice baths should not be used by those who are pregnant or those in certain populations with health conditions (Raynaud’s, certain heart conditions, venous insufficiencies, or novice athletes). It would be rare, but I really worry about somebody who is inexperienced, going out and trying this, and injuring themselves.

Comment by Michelle — May 31, 2010 @ 4:14 pm


Great points both Rebecca and Michelle. As an ice bath believer, I can attest to the relief it may provide after a rigorous workout or race which causes your muscles and tissues to breakdown and become inflamed. This is definitely not something you’d want to try at your leisure. As Michelle states, there are certain concerns you want to be aware of, but for the most part, it’s perfectly fine to do. You are not going to be going out and putting your body under stress in a really tough workout if you are pregnant or have some sort of heart condition to begin with. If you have been training hard at a competitive level, chances are that you are fairly well in tune with your body and will quickly be able to tell whether an ice bath will be good or bad. I always make sure there is someone else nearby while soaking in cold water after a hard race. Its not something I do all the time, but I will say it has worked for me. A great alternative if you don’t want to use up all that water and ice in a tub and you don’t happen to live near an ocean (I only wish!!!) is to use a garden hose to spray your legs down. After a minute, the water becomes quite cold and does the trick. In winter, I will simply sit in a snow bank and pack snow over my legs.
The cardinal rule: When in doubt, don’t do it. Ask someone who knows more if you’re still interested.

Comment by Brian — May 31, 2010 @ 7:25 pm


How far do you have to be running before you need these kinds of ice baths?

Comment by LynZee — June 1, 2010 @ 11:34 am


LynZee, it’s not so much how far you run but how you feel after the run that determines if an ice bath would be helpful. If you wake up a bit stiff the next morning or if you feel little nagging aches and pains try an ice bath to see if your legs feel better. Remember if you are new to running make sure to check with your doctor before taking part in any new running related activity.

Comment by Rebecca — June 1, 2010 @ 4:21 pm


Keep in mind that 10-15 degrees is Celsius. In Fahrenheit it would be 50 – 60 degrees.

Comment by laine — June 3, 2010 @ 7:36 am


Thanks for the info! How does ice bathing differ from putting on compression socks after a race?

Comment by Kelly — June 3, 2010 @ 7:47 am


Good question Kelly there has been conflicting evidence regarding both recovery techniques. Some scientific studies say both ice baths and compression socks aid in recovery while others say they have little or no difference. In the running world both methods are used and there are pros and cons to each.

On the ice bath side, immersion of the whole leg allows for even inflammation reduction from the toes all the way to the hips and the cold water helps prevent initial soreness. However, this technique requires a time commitment and you have to withstand cold water. Compression socks focus on the lower leg and help prevent blood from pooling. They’re also convenient because you can put them on and carry on with your day.

A lot of research shows that both ice baths and compression socks will help improve blood flow to stressed areas after a workout/race but for different reasons. Compression socks apply pressure to surface blood vessels and muscles. This pressure forces the circulating blood through narrower routes and the body responds by increasing blood flow. Ice baths cause blood vessels to constrict in response to the cold. When you remove yourself from the cold water the body pumps blood to the chilled area to warm it up. Despite the method, an increase in blood flow will create a better environment for recovery through improved nutrient delivery to depleted muscles and removal of waste products produced during exercise.

The choice is up to you just remember if you’re new to running check with your doctor first.

Comment by Rebecca — June 3, 2010 @ 5:20 pm


I am an Ice bath dooer myself and I swear by them. I don’t run long distances, but I am a competitive elite hurdler and I use ice baths for recovery, especially after intense workouts where I have lactic acid buildup, as well as after a competition, especially if I have preliminary and final rounds on different days. I understand ice baths may not be for everyone, but I can say for myself that I definitely feel the difference, especially in my legs when I take an ice bath, or if I don’t.

Comment by Yvonne — June 3, 2010 @ 5:45 pm


Hi,

Thanks for your information I understand ice baths may not be for everyone, but I can say for myself that I definitely feel the difference, especially in my legs when I take an ice bath, or if I don’t.

Comment by Vitabing — December 21, 2010 @ 12:57 am


Call me crazy but I love a hot bath after a long run. I’m a novice runner training for my first marathon and since my mileage has increased I sometimes get pain in my left outer thigh. It’s not a soreness, rather it pulses. Oddly enough, I only feel it when sitting still. I did not get this pain before I started running so I can only assume it’s running-related. Taking hot baths after long runs seems to prevent this pain from reemerging. It hardly bothers me anymore. I’m certainly no expert on this sort of thing, and apparently many people swear by the ice bath, but to the layperson this sounds crazy – and unpleasant. (Not something I would want to try, especially if the jury is still out on its efficacy.)

Kung Fu has always been my first love before running and I need to stay flexible for it. I find the repetitive motion of running causes my muscles to stiffen. I feel like the hot baths after long runs (in addition to stretching) keep me from stiffening up. I guess it just really comes down to personally preference and what works for you.

Also, what’s the deal with blood pooling in the extremities after strenuous exercise? What causes it? What’s the danger of it? Are people worried about blood clots or just inflammation?

Comment by Emily — March 24, 2011 @ 9:59 pm


Do I ever! I took two this weekend!

Ice baths are an important part of recovery. The cold water helps clear out the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles, which results in far less stiffness after a run. Yes, they can be uncomfortable for the first few minutes but they are so worth it, and you don’t need to stay in there forever – 10 minutes is plenty. You can always take a warm bath afterwards (Epsom salts work wonders!) as a treat for withstanding the chill.

*Full disclosure – I often bring a treat into the ice bath with me, like some dark chocolate with sea salt or a beer – what? It’s about balance, yo!*

Blood pooling happens when strenuous activity is suddenly stopped and the blood is no longer able to be pumped back up into the heart. I wouldn’t worry too much about it causing blood clots, mostly it can lead to dizziness and nausea. Just another reason why you want to take the time to do a proper cool down after your run!
~ Tess

Comment by lululemon athletica GEC — March 29, 2011 @ 3:23 pm


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