A major controversy has erupted in the running community: ice baths, friend or foe? Many long distance runners swear by them (and at them), claiming they allow much faster recovery from long runs and hard workouts. Recent research shows that ice baths may be detrimental, interfering with the adaptive response of muscles and blood vessels to training. What's a runner to do?
We know that ice and cold decrease swelling by constricting blood flow to an area, and decrease pain as well. The increased inflow of blood as the area re-warms afterwards is felt by some to be very beneficial in the healing process. Many runners have used ice baths for relief after workouts, noticing that their legs feel less tired, which allows the resumption of higher quality training sessions more quickly following a hard effort.
A recent study showed that ice baths could lessen the usual gain in muscle tissue that results with resistance training. This could be due to the decrease of the body's normal anti-inflammatory response caused by the ice bath. The study,however, was not done after running, but after strength workouts.
One way around this seeming conundrum would be to periodize the ice bath treatment within your training plan. Use the ice bath sparingly during your earlier base-building phases, when you are likely looking to build muscle strength. Then utilize the ice baths more frequently as the intensity of training increases and racing starts, doing them immediately after hard workouts. Feeling physically better during these later training phases helps psychologically, increasing confidence going into the next hard effort.
How to take an ice bath:
Fill the tub with cold water so that it will cover the lower half of your body. Get in (you can wear a jacket, hat,gloves). Now add ice. The water should be 55-60 degrees. Stay in 10-15 minutes. Rivers, lakes, and oceans work, too!