Ice baths have become an increasingly popular practice in the field of wellness and sports recovery. This ancient technique, used for centuries in different cultures, is gaining ground in Spain and capturing the attention of athletes, fitness enthusiasts and people interested in boosting their health.
In ancient Greece, cold baths were an integral part of the culture of health and hygiene. Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, recommended cold baths to alleviate ailments and promote recovery. The ancient Romans also valued the benefits of cold water, building baths that included hot and cold pools.
In the Nordic regions, such as Finland and Russia, ice bathing became a tradition embedded in the culture. In Finland, for example, the practice of immersing yourself in ice holes or ice saunas is part of daily life and is considered a revitalizing experience. These ice baths were used both to promote physical health and to strengthen the mind and spirit.
Over time, the practice of ice bathing has spread to other parts of the world and has gained popularity in a variety of contexts, including sports recovery and general wellness. The growing scientific understanding of the effects of cold on the body has further supported the benefits of this ancient practice.
Today, ice baths are used by elite (and not-so-elite) athletes and people looking to improve their health and well-being. Technological advances have enabled the development of portable ice baths and other tools that make this therapy more accessible to a broader audience.
What are ice baths?
Ice baths, also known as cold water immersions, involve immersing the body in cold water. Dive time may vary based on water temperature and individual preferences.
Cold baths can be done using a cold shower or in a bathtub:
In the case of a cold shower, it is simply a matter of setting the water temperature to as cold as possible.
On the other hand, ice baths are specifically designed for ice baths. These bathtubs are equipped with cooling systems that keep the water at low temperatures. You can soak in the bathtub and enjoy the benefits of cold therapy.
Both the cold shower and the cold bath are affordable and practical options for experiencing the revitalizing effects of ice baths. You can adapt the temperature and duration of the bath according to your personal preferences and needs.
Benefits of ice baths
There are numerous scientifically validated benefits associated with ice baths, some of which we will describe below.
Ice baths can help reduce muscle pain
Do you feel sore after a run, a long run or an intense workout? The main purpose of ice baths is to reduce muscle soreness, and many studies have shown that they can effectively reduce the sensation of soreness after exercise.
Exposure to cold causes the blood vessels in the submerged legs (and throughout the body) to constrict. When you step out of the ice bath, these blood vessels dilate rapidly, removing metabolic waste products that can cause delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and increasing nourishing blood flow.
Ice baths can provide effective and natural relief for muscle soreness after intense exercise. It is important to note that each person may experience different results, so it is advisable to listen to your body and adjust the duration and frequency of ice baths according to your individual needs.
Ice baths reduce inflammation
One of the main benefits of ice baths is their ability to reduce inflammation. Intense physical activity can cause microscopic damage to muscle tissues, resulting in inflammation and pain. Ice baths help reduce this inflammation by constricting blood vessels and slowing blood flow to affected areas. This can help reduce swelling and pain, allowing people to recover faster from their workouts.
Ice baths speed recovery
In addition to reducing inflammation and muscle pain, ice baths can also help speed up the recovery process. By reducing inflammation and promoting blood flow, ice baths can help transport important nutrients and oxygen to damaged muscle tissue, promoting healing and recovery. This can help athletes recover faster between training sessions, allowing them to push harder and perform at their best.
Since applying cold to the muscles helps to decrease the body's inflammatory response, they contribute to a reduction in muscle fatigue after intense exercise. By reducing the buildup of waste products and relieving muscle tension, ice baths can help reduce feelings of tiredness and exhaustion post-workout.
Ice baths improve performance
Many athletes find that ice baths facilitate recovery after workouts, and doing them regularly can allow you to train harder and more frequently, which can lead to further improvements in performance.
By accelerating the elimination of waste products and reducing the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, ice baths can help prevent fatigue and improve performance capacity.
In addition, ice baths can have a cooling and revitalizing effect on the body, which can increase feelings of vitality and energy
Ice baths can improve sleep
There is some evidence to suggest that cold water immersion therapy may improve sleep. The results in this study were more favorable when the entire body was submerged, including the athlete's head.
This benefit is believed to be largely due to the effect of ice baths on the central nervous system.
Cooling the body with ice baths can help regulate body temperature and promote a feeling of relaxation and calm, making it easier to fall asleep. In addition, the relief of muscular stress can contribute to a better quality of sleep and a more complete recovery during the night.
Ice baths can increase mental strength
Perhaps the most indisputable benefit of ice baths is the mental toughness you can develop by forcing yourself to go inside and endure the cold.
Walking into an ice bath requires determination, perseverance and courage, and many elite athletes claim that training to withstand an ice bath translates into mental toughness.
When you dip your foot in an ice bath, everything in your head screams, "I can't go in there!" However, if you muster up the courage and jump in, the intense initial discomfort slowly fades away.
Just like doing a really hard series workout or race, you find that your mind can try to discourage you from doing things that you can definitely achieve.
This brain teaser teaches you to overcome mental barriers and stay focused and engaged even when circumstances are uncomfortable or difficult. As you get used to facing and overcoming the discomfort of ice baths, you can transfer that resilient mindset to other aspects of your sporting and everyday life.
It is important to note that mental strength is not developed solely through ice baths, but is a multidimensional aspect that requires a comprehensive approach in physical and mental training. In addition, it is essential to listen to your body and respect your personal limits when incorporating ice baths as part of your recovery and mental strength routine.
Ice baths improve immune function:
Exposure to cold, such as that experienced during an ice bath, has been shown to have a positive effect on immune function. In particular, exposure to cold has been shown to increase the number and activity of immune cells, which are responsible for fighting infection and disease. This can help improve overall immune function and reduce the risk of disease and infection.
When we are exposed to cold, our body activates a defensive response that stimulates the immune system. This can strengthen our defenses and increase our ability to fight pathogens and stay healthy.
How cold should the water be in an ice bath?
Water freezes at 0 °C. Most rehabilitation specialists recommend that an ice bath be approximately 8-15°C.
How long should you stay in an ice bath?
The general consensus is that the ideal length of an ice bath is 10-15 minutes (although it depends on the temperature of the water). These times will maximize the benefits of cold water immersion without inducing undue stress or risking tissue frostbite or the body hypothermia.
If you are new to ice baths, start with 2 minutes and gradually build up a little at a time.
What to do after an ice bath?
After an ice bath, exit carefully, towel dry completely, and put on warm, dry clothing. Keep in mind that your feet may be numb, so move carefully and deliberately to avoid falls.
If you feel very cold, consider taking a hot shower and drinking hot drinks. Be careful with the temperature of the shower water, as your skin may not be able to correctly detect how hot the water is.
Are ice baths dangerous?
Ice baths are generally considered safe for most athletes, but there are some important precautions to keep in mind:
Prolonged exposure to cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia. DO NOT stay in the ice bath for more than 15 minutes. If you suffer from circulation problems, DO NOT take an ice bath without first consulting your doctor.
If you are pregnant, have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or low blood pressure, ice baths may not be safe for you. Consult your doctor before trying an ice bath.
How to make an ice bath at home?
Unless you have access to a sports training room, you may need to improvise an ice bath at home. You will need a very large tub or container such as a wading pool (or use one of our ice tubs: VitaliCold Lite or VitaliCold Pro).
Fill the tub with cold water and ice. Most experts recommend a 3:1 water to ice ratio.
Unless you only want to soak your lower legs, fill the tub as high as possible, leaving room to accommodate the water your body will displace as you enter.
Wait approximately 10 minutes for the water to cool down. If you have a thermometer, you should aim for a temperature of 10-15°C.
Take a deep breath and go inside!
Stay between 5 and 15 minutes.
Remember that it is always important to listen to your body and tailor the experience to your own needs and tolerance for cold. If at any time you feel sick or too cold, you should get out of the ice bath immediately.
After the soak time is complete, carefully step out of the ice bath and towel dry. Remember to dress warmly to help conserve body heat and avoid chills.
Always be aware of the precautions and recommended time limits to ensure a safe and beneficial ice bath experience at home.