Friday, January 4, 2008

10 Steps to the perfect Ice Bath

I've gotten a bunch of questions about this photograph. So it's time to discuss - in full, chilly detail - one of the best recovery methods ever: the ICE BATH!

Why the ice bath?

Is it crazy? Check.

Is it masochistic? Double check.

Are you looking for sympathy from your husband and training partners, because they would never in their wildest dreams do or attempt to do what you're doing? Sort of.

Will it help your recovery after a hard workout and/or race? Duh - otherwise I wouldn't be there!

Do clothes really help? Probably not, but I at least like to feel layered while sitting in a tub full of ice.

In all seriousness, last season the ice bath helped tremendously. My massage therapist - the one who cracks her knuckles while exclaiming, "where does it hurt!" (not a question) - told me I should take a dip in ice after a tough workout.

I gave her a horrified look, speechless at her suggestion. The massage was painful enough, so why in the world would I deliberately plunge my lower half in ice?

Shelly laughed and patiently explained that by sitting in the ice, my body would respond by restricting blood flow to the extremities submerged in ice (in this case, my lower half), while pushing all of the lactic acid - or junk built up from the workout - out of my legs and into my lymphatic system therefore helping to speed recovery. The ice cold water would stimulate my body to restrict blood flow to the damaged muscles and tissues, help reduce swelling from the micro-tears gained from the workout, and feel really really good about 2 hours after the bath.

And then she stretched my hamstrings.

I winced, and decided then and there, that after the next difficult workout (time trial, race, or just butt-bursting-pain-kind-of-workout) I would buy 40 pounds of ice, and hop into the bath asap.

It was crazy, but I was desperate. Shelly was a great massage therapist, but I wanted to do anything I could to help recovery and prevent injury. If she wanted me to run around my house with my underwear on my head (because obviously the running in circles would increase my connective tissue strength and the underwear on my head would promote good balance and stability... :) - I might, just might, consider it.

So the ice bath it was.

Now that you know the why, it's time to learn about the how and what and all those other good things...

First, you've got to do a really hard workout. If you read my blog, I assume that you've got some kind of random interest in sports or triathlon... so you probably know what I'm talking about. If not - go run 2 miles as fast as you can. And then you'll get it.

Second, as I mentioned before, I would usually buy 40 pounds of ice. Usually at a gas station or liquor store. Conveniently, the ice was almost always located next to large quantities of booze. STOP! Lest you think vodka is a nice way to "warm your belly" before the cold dip - well, (I hate to say this, but...) you are partially right. Yes, it'll feel nice and warm going down the hatch, but as the ice bath is a method for post-workout recovery, vodka probably shouldn't be your beverage of choice. Go for water first. AND THEN coffee or tea. End of story. Hot beverages - not Irish coffee - are helpful while immersed in cold water.

Third, get the water as cold as possible. Usually Nathaniel (who never missed the opportunity to see me shivering while grinning ear-to-ear in the bath) was great about making sure the water was as cold as possible. After the second or third ice bath, he absolutely insisted on taking the temperature. Usually it hovered between 45-49 degrees. Nice. Good times.

Fourth, WEAR CLOTHES! Not because your significant other will see you naked-as-a-jay-bird, but because clothes provide a somewhat comforting placebo effect. I find that wearing a warm top is helpful. I don't feel quite as cold. Biking shorts and the top are even better. A little warmer... Hey, throw in a pair of running socks (I swear that my toes don't feel quite as numb...), along with the shirt and shorts, and you're all set. We're having a heat wave! Plus, in all seriousness, how many times do you get to jump into a bathtub fully clothed? Again, the three year old little kid in me - the same one who bunny hops in her boxer shorts in the snow, and who used to run around her backyard yelling "Mr T!" while totally nude - gets a chance to emerge.

Fifth, remember that even though you're wearing clothes, you'll still be cold. And have lots and lots and lots of goosebumps. I'm not sure that you can see them in the photo, but believe me - they're there! And oh - by the way - the swirly-looking stuff in the upper part of the picture, is ice. Because the ice never fully melts. It just stays there, bumping against your skin at random moments, sending shivers up your spine and making you produce goosebumps upon goosebumps (if such things even exist!). And yes, I do realize that my quad/leg look totally huge in this photo, but take my word for it... it's the angle of the camera/water effect. So there's yet again, another great reason to be fully clothed in the bathtub: you won't see the goosebumps pop on your legs. Just throw on a pair of tights and in you go!

Sixth, make sure you time yourself. 15 minutes at minimum, 20 minutes at max. But don't wear a watch: I found myself obsessively checking the time every :30 or :45 when I had my watch on. I set the timer in the kitchen, thus ensuring I would hear the beep-beep-beep, without going crazy. (Although, at times I thought I heard the beep-beep-beep - but realized I was hallucinating. Cold water will do that, I guess). Set an egg timer, don't wear a watch.

Seventh, beg and plead for your significant other (if you have one) to bring you a hot beverage. Coffee or Tea - anything hot. Then again, if they're engrossed with the computer or books, beg and plead your case. Give them the big puppy-dog-eyes (a la Boss - scroll to the bottom!), explain your case (I had the hardest workout ever!) and then top it with, something like: you're the best fill-in-the-blank-ever! I couldn't do this without you!!! And then whimper when easing into the tub. If that doesn't do it, tell them they can take a picture to document your craziness - that will at least get them in the bathroom. Then they'll be able to see how cold you really are, and they'll feel so sorry for you, and will bring you something nice and warm. And maybe tasty, too (peanut butter cups!) Usually it doesn't take this much effort for me - Nathaniel is quick to brew extra coffee or make a cup of strong tea. He knows me well enough to know that I'm not quick to "jump the gun" when it comes to the ice bath. It's only reserved for the toughest workouts. At which point I'm pretty pathetic anyway - so he's always trying to be as supportive as possible (whatta man!)

Eighth, bring a book or magazine - one that you won't mind if it gets wet. Or dunked in the water. Reading helps pass the time. But don't be surprised if you drop whatever you're looking at out of surprise when the cold hits you. Actually I find that it's much better if you ease into the water first, get settled, reach for the aforementioned hot beverage (remember: NO VODKA or IRISH COFFEE!!!), and then - once you're good and ready - grab your book. An ipod would be great, but I wouldn't trust myself to NOT drop it in the water. One gasp, and there goes $200 bucks. And my good mood. A book is easy to replace (although sad - who doesn't like books?), but an ipod is downright painful. And while I'm on the subject of electronic devices going into the drink, make sure that your cell phone and/or any other electronic devices, are off your person. Make the experience as painless as possible - don't sacrifice the ipod or phone. Magazine or book is the way to go.

Ninth, when getting out of the tub - do so with extreme caution! You will not only be cold, but - and here's the funny part - you won't have any feeling below your waist. Zip. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Movement, even the smallest of sorts, will be very difficult. And comical. You'll walk like Frankenstein. It will take a few minutes to remove your person from the tub and bathroom. Take off the wet clothes as carefully as possible - preferably on a non-slippery surface. Bathroom tiles + frozen limbs = falls of catastrophic proportion. Trust me. The carpet works best - and bonus, it warms your feet. In summary: you will be cold, you won't move that well, and feeling will return very slowly to your legs. Now is NOT the time to test your "recovery" and go sprint around the house. You will have the speed of a snail. Or me - after my first half-ironman.

Tenth, you'll notice that I've got a friend with me. I strongly recommend that you get a friend of your own, not necessarily an 18.2 pound tiger, er cat, but any friend to keep you company while you shiver and shake. The bath will be cold, and misery loves company. And believe me, 15 minutes ALONE versus 15 minutes with a friend can and will make all the difference in the world...while you loose all sensation in your legs. Plus, I've noticed that it's a lot better when I talk to Tabbitha and/or Nathaniel, than when I talk to myself. Nothing says "crazy" like a fully clothed woman in an ice bath, alone, and muttering under her breath. Again - trust me.

So there you have it. My 10 suggestions and tips for the perfect ice bath. Then again, it is winter. And if you live in a Northern-type climate or high altitude, all you have to do is go roll in the snow. Either way - you're crazy! Hope this explains "the method to my madness". Happy training!

Oh yeah - and whatever you do... keep smiling. Be happy - I'm convinced that it's a heckuva lot easier to laugh at yourself instead of cry. And it'll make time go by a little faster! (And bring that friend with you!) Cheers - from me and Tabbitha.


Pedergraham said...

This is perfect! Lelia now wants to take a bath with clothes on, plus get a cat to come in the tub with her. I tried to explain that Tabbitha might be near the tub, but that I was pretty sure she wouldn't put one of her pretty little paws IN it!

Thanks for the explanation of phsiological effect of ice baths--now I finally understand why ice baths are good for you. I am always more likely to follow through on things if I know WHY they are good for me, rather than that they are just good for me.

BreeWee said...

YAHOOOO! I too LOVE the ice bath! Maybe it is the craziness of it all, the pain, the burr, the way it REALLY works... but man I am hooked! Love the photos!

Anonymous said...

Some good tips althought i really don't think clothes are necesary, the cold is mostly in your head. Also instead of reading i try and concentrate on relaxing. And people thinking of trying this, don't whip out, getting in and the first 2 minutes and way harder than the next 15.

Michael said...

Great post. I'm another ice bath lover! I agree with your idea of wearing something on the top half. I like to have it about 50 deg and maybe do a couple of 8 min baths after a hard workout, once just after and one before bed. The relief in soreness lasts better than absolutely anything.

Brad said...

I used to do 15 minute ice baths. I only go 3 min now and i still get the same benefit. Not a big deal in the summer, but after a 3 hour practice in 30 degree weather that cold is brutal.

Anonymous said...

Down jacket and hat are the way to get rid of the goose bumps (at least on your upper half! A bowl of hot oatmeal is great too.

Anonymous said...

We started doing ice baths after hard games of tennis. The only thing we do different is we go all the to our necks. The only thing out of the water and ice is our head. Feel great, ready to play again, and ready for another "ice" bath.

Anonymous said...

it's also good to prop your legs up against a wall for 7-10 minutes afterwards

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