Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli is sweating hard in the practice sessions to prepare himself for the upcoming IPL tournament. After rigorous training, he took an ice water bath to relax his body as he shared pictures of the same on his recent Twitter post.

And he’s not the only athlete to use ice baths to help recovery after a competition. Many footballers, Baseball players, Rugby players and Weight lifters use this therapy for years. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, former track and field athlete from England used to stand in a wheelie bin of iced water for the sake of her muscles. British tennis champion Andy Murray used to spend eight minutes after every match in an ice bath.

What is an Ice Bath?

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It’s not uncommon to see athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and weekend warriors jumping into an ice bath after physical activity. In the world of sports, ice bath therapy, or sometimes Cold Water Immersion (CWI) or cold therapy or cryotherapy, is a training regimen usually following a period of high-intensity workout or competition, in which a substantial part of a human body (ideally up to your chest), is immersed in a bath of ice or ice-water maintained between approximately 10–15° Celsius or 50–59° Fahrenheit for a limited duration of approximately 10 to 15-minutes.

The concept of super cooling the entire body for therapeutic reasons started in Japan during the late 1970s, when it was recommended as a potential way to relieve joint pain in patients with multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis. It then gained traction in Western Europe in the 1990s. Only recently, in the past decade, has ice bath risen to prominence in the United States.

Potential benefits of Ice Bath:

Currently, the possible mechanisms postulated for the use of cold water immersion therapy post exercise include:

1. It improves your mood. The greatest benefit of ice baths, most likely, is that they simply make the body feel good. Ice baths stimulate our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, stress response, and recovery process, all of which contribute to a natural high and boost in mood and attitude. Cryotherapy can also aid in sleep, and consequently, making you feel better by being less fatigued. The Vagus nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, connecting many organs, such as the brain, heart, liver, and gut. Exposing your body to cryotherapy, increases stimulation of the Vagus nerve. While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity declines, while parasympathetic activity increases.

2. It can help improve reaction time and explosiveness in future workouts.

With intense exercise, there will be some microtrauma and tears in the muscle fibers affected. This muscle damage will stimulate muscle cell activity (hypertrophy in the long term) and help in the repair and strengthening of the muscle. This is also thought to be the explanation for the delayed onset pain and soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness), which often presents 12–72 h post exercise.
The ice bath will cause constriction of blood vessels. This has been suggested as a mechanism that helps with the flushing of waste products, such as lactic acid, out of the affected tissue.
With the cold temperature, there will be a reduction of the metabolism and this can cause a slowing down of the physiological processes.
The cold temperature will reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
Ice water immersion is also said to be able to shift lactic acid.

Potential drawbacks of Ice Bath:

1. The most noticeable drawback ice bath is feeling very cold when you immerse your body in the cold water. But beyond this superficial side effect, there are some other risks to consider.
2. The primary risk of an ice bath applies to people who have a preexisting cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. The decrease in core temperature and the immersion in ice constricts blood vessels and slows the flow of blood in the body. This can be dangerous if you have decreased blood flow, which places you at risk for cardiac arrest or stroke.
3. Another risk that may happen is hypothermia, especially if you’re submerged in the ice bath for too long.
4. People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes also need to be careful with ice baths since they are both associated with reduced ability to maintain core temperature during extreme temperature changes.

Tips for taking an Ice Bath:

1. If you’re ready to take the plunge, there are a few things you should know before submerging your body in ice.
2. Temperature of ice bath. The temperature of an ice bath, says Gardner, needs to be approximately 10–15° Celsius or 50–59° Fahrenheit.
3. Time in ice bath. Spending too much time in an ice bath can have adverse consequences. That’s why you should limit your time to no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Body exposure. It is generally recommended to immerse your entire body in the ice bath to gain the best effect of blood vessel constriction. However, to start out, you may want to first expose your feet and lower legs. As you get comfortable, you can move toward your chest.
5. Timing of bath. The sooner you get in an ice bath after a workout or competition, the better the effects should be. If you wait an hour after the workout, some of the healing and inflammatory processes have already begun or have already finished. When it comes to how often you should take an ice bath, the research is limited. However, it is important to note that acute bouts of ice bath to facilitate a quicker recovery is ok, but its chronic use should be avoided. If you do it every time after you work out, you won’t maximize the benefits of your workout. One important reminder is that you should never ice a body part or take an ice bath before running, racing, or any other workouts. The body needs to be warm before these activities, and ice can also decrease strength and delay the body’s reaction time.

Bottom Line:

Ice baths should be reserved only for after the hardest training sessions or races, or if you will be performing again soon afterwards (like back-to-back races). It is most beneficial for short-term recovery between events or hard workouts, and research suggests that it can hinder long-term adaptations. This is why ice baths should be avoided during a building phase of training. Research has also shown that icing after strength training can actually slow down the growth of new muscle, so if the goal of your workout is to build strength, it may not be the best choice for you. Remember that after a tough workout or race, it’s also important to rest, rehydrate, and replenish your body with healthy food to help you recover as quickly as possible.

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