December 15, 2017

The Art of the Ice Bath

We’ve all heard about the ice bath but very few of us have tried it. Just the sound of it congers up images of Houdini practicing for his famous escape from underneath the frozen Detroit River.

Great movie by the way! Houdini spends hours in an ice bath to prepare himself for another of his great escapes. They cut a hole in the ice in the Detroit River and they handcuff him and seal him in a box and dump it in the river. The unfortunate thing is that Houdini didn’t figure on the current dragging him and the box downstream. He barely escapes by breathing little air pockets beneath the ice.

Cryotherapy (ice bath) can really help you recover from your long and hard bike and run efforts. So much so that you may be able to eliminate going for the jar of your favorite nsaids (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in the middle of the night!

It is said that ice baths reduce swelling, decrease muscle breakdown and help flush out metabolic debris.

Anyway, your ice bath needn’t be quite so dramatic but there are a few “tricks” I can give you to make it tolerable.

1. Fill your tub with cold water (duh!).

2. Fill it enough so you can stretch out your legs and that you’ll be submerged to just above your thighs.

3. Use ice cubes if possible. It’s a pain to run down to the 7-11 every time but your typical ice trays won’t yield enough ice to make the water cold enough. Therefore, you can make and store enough ice or do what I do which is I freeze blocks of ice in some large Tupperware containers. Admittedly this is not the best because the blocks take longer to melt. I break them up so they melt quicker.

4. I like to wear my swimsuit – don’t know why, I just do (hide the shrinkage?). On top it’s not a bad idea to wear a sweatshirt or jacket. Personally, I don’t because I keep getting it all wet. Maybe you’ll have better success.

5. Get a stop watch so you can see how long you’ve been in the water.

6. Get something to read.

7. Get something hot to drink.

8. Take the plunge! I jump right in rather than “inch” in. As soon as I do I hit my stop watch. I usually stay in for 15 minutes but 20 may be better if you really beat yourself up.

9. It’ll take your breath away if you’ve made the water cold enough but the numbness comes on pretty quickly and it becomes tolerable.

10. The cold water will constrict your blood vessels and reduce the swelling.

11. Now take a hot shower to warm up as well as dilate the blood vessels.

Good luck with your ice bath. You’ll hate me for it now, but love me for it later!

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  1. Triathlon Beginner says:

    Ice baths work really well in my experience. I always recommend a hot shower just for a minute ( pure psychology) before taking the plunge. The other thing I do is put only some of the ice in the bath before the plunge, and the rest after the athlete is in. once again this is just for psychological reasons. If you hate the cold take a buddy or coach to distract you. I find that once an athlete see’s just how well it works, they don’t want to stop.

  2. Luke says:

    First ice bath test today, after the long run was hampered due to weakness and some spasms around the shin bone (again). Two bags of ice went fast and I took the QUICK plunge! Stayed for 20 minutes,but, I think I need more ice :-(

    Regardless, I felt like a new person after icing and warming back up with the warm water. I have used a similar technique at the gym after a whole body workout by using the shower on cold to cool down.

    Thank you for this! It is my new secret weapon and I now need to find an unliited supply of ice!

  3. Michael Gist says:

    How long after a race before this is not so beneficial? I sometimes have to drive an hour to get home.

    • admin says:


      You can take an ice bath anytime you wish. No rush to jump right in.

      Essentially, you’re trying to reduce the inflammation you created during your race or hard training sessions so there is no deadline as there is with replenishing your body with nutrition after a race or hard workout.



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