Is Ice Bathing Good for Running

Ice bathing is weird. 

For decades it was recommended to do cold water immersion after hard efforts and competition to speed up / improve your recovery.

But more recently, research has been suggesting that ice bathing may be hindering the adaptations you experience from these hard exercise sessions. This means that while ice bathing may speed up how soon you are recovered and ready to run hard again, you may actually be benefiting less from that long run if you take an ice bath.

How to take an ice bath.

Most research uses a protocol of 10 to 15, maybe 20 minutes in water up to your waist that is kept at ~10-15 degrees Celcius or 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Are ice baths helpful?

Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signaling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training | “Individuals who use *strength training* to improve athletic performance, recover from injury or maintain their health should therefore reconsider whether to use cold water immersion as an adjuvant to their training.” | In regards to strength training, cold water immersion may hinder adaptations.

Regular postexercise cooling enhances mitochondrial biogenesis through AMPK and p38 MAPK in human skeletal muscle. | These findings indicate that regular cold water immersion enhances signaling kinases p38 + AMPK and possibly mitochondrial biogenesis. | This study suggests that ice bathing may increase the production of new mitochondria, which as you learned in science class is the powerhouse of the cell. 

Does hydrotherapy help or hinder adaptation to training in competitive cyclists? |Although some effects of CWI on performance were unclear, data from this study do not support recent speculation that CWI is detrimental to performance after increased training load in competitive cyclists. | This did not show a decrease in endurance performance from cold water immersion.

Does Regular Post-exercise Cold Application Attenuate Trained Muscle Adaptation? |Regular post-exercise cold application to muscles might attenuate muscular and vascular adaptations to resistance training. | Muscle endurance increased less in the ice bathed group, but markers of inflammation adaptation did not differ significantly between the two groups

The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. |Our results suggest that cold water immersion is no more effective than active recovery for minimizing the inflammatory and stress responses in muscle after resistance exercise. | Exercise increased the signals of inflammation and ice bathing did not decrease them any more than active recovery. 

Postexercise cold water immersion benefits are not greater than the placebo effect. |A recovery placebo administered after an acute high-intensity interval training session is superior in the recovery of muscle strength over 48 h as compared with TWI and is as effective as CWI. This can be attributed to improved ratings of readiness for exercise, pain, and vigor, suggesting that the commonly hypothesized physiological benefits surrounding CWI are at least partly placebo related. | Placebo, FTWOr at least it’s as effective!

Effects of seated and standing cold water immersion on recovery from repeated sprinting. | These data suggest that increasing hydrostatic pressure by standing in cold water does not provide an additional recovery benefit over seated cold water immersion, and that both seated and standing immersions have no benefit in promoting recovery following intermittent sprint exercise. | This one was interesting because it brings up something I’ve also heard, that the hydrostatic pressure may be a benefit of water immersion, sort of like compression, but this study suggested immersion was not helpful either way!

“There are three basics to optimal recovery for athletes: optimal nutrition, sleep and rest. It is our belief that the benefits of doing these three things well far outweighs the ice bath,” Leeder says. “A well-periodized training plan that allows for high-quality rest, alongside proper sleep and nutrition, is the best form of recovery.” 

Ice bathing reduces blood flow to muscles, which may reduce amino acids (protein) movement to the muscles.

Ice bathing drops muscle temperature, which could hinder the adaptation process.

 

Ice bathing, recovery oil, and the placebo. What you need to know →

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Kyle

Kyle is a running coach who works with people all over the world to help them run more consistently & be resilient to injury.

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