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Who hasn’t woken up stiff and sore the day after a great workout? How would you like to be able to eliminate that soreness before it ever hits? You may be able to with a cold bath right after your workout.

Who hasn’t woken up stiff and sore the day after a great workout? How would you like to be able to eliminate that soreness before it ever hits? You may be able to with a cold bath right after your workout.

Many athletes and bodybuilders use cold baths to speed up their recovery after a killer workout. It not only makes it easier to get back in the swing of things, it helps them perform their best, too. Athletes from professional sports and prominent bodybuilders have been using this technique for some time, and rave about it.

Why do cold baths help recovery?

Strenuous workouts result in damaged muscle tissue – that’s what creates new muscle growth. This microtrauma is the reason you’re sore after a hard workout. It’s also the reason for inflammation and swelling.

Cold treatment reduces the swelling by causing the blood vessels to constrict, thereby reducing the blood flow to the affected area. It also slows the metabolic activity in the immersed area and will facilitate the removal of lactic acid that builds up in those tissues.

There are a variety of immersion therapies: cold, warm and contrast therapy, in which the athlete alternates between the two. Different individuals had different preferences, however, and since there is very little reliable research, much of what is known is purely of a testimonial nature.

Some athletes prefer warm water immersion, which causes the blood vessels to expand, increasing the amount of blood flow to the area. This is presumed to speed the healing process. But little evidence exists to indicate this is true.

Still others prefer the more extreme method of immersing themselves in iced water. The theory, presumably, is that if cold is good, ice is better.

As always, it’s important to remember that even though we see someone else getting fantastic results with a technique, that doesn’t mean that we’ll benefit as much, or even at all. Every individual’s diet, workout level, metabolism and body health is different, so each of us needs to test for himself to determine what works.

Even with such contradictory findings, we can make some reasonable assumptions on which to base our own testing:

  1. Cold therapy may reduce swelling and discomfort and won’t do any harm;
  2. Cold baths are just as effective as ice-water baths, if not more so;
  3. Total rest isn’t as effective as any sort of immersion therapy;
  4. After an intense workout, hot water immersion may reduce recovery time;
  5. Active recovery may be equally as effective as cold therapy;
  6. Contrast therapy may offer some benefits in performance.

If you’re going to try cold bath therapy, take a conservative approach and don’t overdo it. If you’re going to see any benefit, you should see it from a ten minute treatment in 15C water. Don’t fail to take a warm shower of have a hot drink 30-60 minutes afterward, in order to restore your core temperature.

If you feel like trying contrast therapy, give yourself one minute in cold (15C) water, then two minutes in warm (38C) water, repeated three or four times. That should be plenty to show any results you’re likely to get.

Even in the absence of hard evidence that ice baths work, there are still a lot of athletes that prefer them. If you decide to try iced-water therapy, though, be cautious not to drop your core temperature too much. Remember that your goal is to build your body, not demolish it.

Soreness comes with any worthwhile workout, but it does affect your performance, whether you believe it or not. Used wisely, one or more of these techniques may reduce that soreness and give you the edge you’re looking for.

Aaliyah J Gibbs
Aaliyah J Gibbs

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