Sports Athlete Performance – What You Need To Know About Ice Baths

Team USA Womens Gymnastics team dipping legs in ice bath during the 2012 Summer Olympics

2012 Team USA Women’s Olympic Team taking a dip in an ice bath. Source: Instagram user mckaylamaroney

A focus on body recovery with ice baths can help reduce injuries and maintain regular training to improve overall body condition for sports.

With baseball and softball season approaching, players are getting their gear ready for another exciting season on the playing field. Our last blog article focused on nutrition to help keep an athlete’s body in top shape for a season of high physical activity. This week we will look at body recovery using ice baths.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, athletes from gymnasts to volleyball players were seen posting pictures on social media taking a dip in an ice bath after their performance. According to Runners World Ice baths suppress inflammation and “help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles”.

Kerri Walsh from Team USA Volleball takes an ice bath during the 2012 London Olympics

Kerrie Walsh, Team USA Volleyball. Source: Instagram User kerrileewalsh

Andy Schmidtz from USA Triathlon writes more on the theory behind ice baths.

The general theory behind this cold therapy is that the exposure to cold helps to combat the microtrauma (small tears) in muscle fibers and resultant soreness caused by intense or repetitive exercise. The ice bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown. Subsequently, as the tissue warms and the increased blood flow speeds circulation, the healing process is jump-started. The advantage of an ice bath submersion is that a large area of intertwined musculature can be treated, rather than limiting the cold therapy to a concentrated area with a localized ice pack.

Jackie Traina pitched on the 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide Championship team.

Source: University of Alabama

And top college softball players are utilizing ice baths to improve their ability to play during demanding performance schedules. Alabama Crimson Tide pitcher Jackie Traina spoke with AL.com during her teams run to the championship in the 2012 Women’s College World Series. Traina mentioned that she never ices her arm but instead uses a technique of icing her lower body to maintain a shape where she could pitch 600 innings over a 2 week period.

Traina’s level of performance took a lot of work building up her endurance and ice baths aided in keeping her training up. Alabama pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle also added that Traina is “aware of when she’s sore. She knows the difference between being injured and being sore, because there’s a difference. She takes the necessary steps to take care of her body.”

So what should a player know before adding ice baths to their training regiment?

Andy Schmitz from USA Triathlon recommends the following tips for ice baths.

  • Don’t go too low with the water temperature. It shouldn’t be freezing cold, but instead a temperature of 54-60 degrees is ideal. Temperatures below 54 degrees can be dangerous.
  • Some people may be very sensitive to the cold water and can use booties made of wetsuit material to help sensitive toes
  • Don’t overexpose your body to the cold water. 6-8 minutes is all you need.
  • If you are uncomfortable with 54-60 degrees temperature, you can also see good results using higher temperatures (60-75 degrees). Ease your body into ice bath routines.
  • “Don’t Rush to take a warm shower immediately after the ice bath”. You want to gradually warm your body so try warming yourself with a blanket before jumping into the shower.
  • Apart from ice baths, active recovery with very light exercise can also help “facilitate blood flow to musculature”

As with any training and nutrition techniques, it’s a good idea to do your homework on ice baths and consult with a professional for questions about your individual body. Good luck this season and leave us a comment below on how you recover after your workouts and games.

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