Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery: What Is it?

The Ice Bath is a type of treatment that helps to reduce inflammation and improve your body’s ability to heal itself. You can use this method if you have any kind of pain or injury. It is effective when used with other treatments such as massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and even surgery.

Ice baths are usually performed at home using ice packs placed over the affected area. They can be done several times per day until they become painful enough to stop. The temperature of the water varies from room temperature to -10 degrees Celsius (-20 Fahrenheit).

If you want to take things up a notch, you could try doing them in a sauna or steam room.

Ice baths are most commonly used for injuries like sprains, strains, bruises and muscle aches. They can also be helpful for treating infections and rashes. Some people prefer to use ice baths instead of stretching exercises because they don’t require as much time or effort.

How Does It Work?

The exact way in which ice baths help you recover from pain and injury isn’t really known. There are several scientific theories out there though. One theory suggests that it reduces the amount of toxins build up in your muscles which can cause pain. Another theory says that it reduces the amount of inflammation in your muscles. We think that these two things work together to relieve pain caused by different factors.

A third theory says that they help with blood flow and muscle recovery. When you use an ice bath after a tough workout, it helps your body to recover by flushing out waste and lactic acid. This is important because if you don’t remove this waste from your muscles, it can lead to pain and impaired muscle growth.

How Effective Are Ice Baths?

The use of cold water for healing is surprisingly widespread in many parts of the world. From the European Alps to the Canadian Arctic, people have long been using ice baths to treat aches and pains brought on by exercise and other kinds of physical stress. While the therapeutic effects of using ice baths are certainly helpful, there are some risks involved in this treatment which should be carefully considered before jumping into one.

If you’ve ever done any kind of intense physical activity then you’ll probably be familiar with how your muscles feel sore the next day. This is a side effect of lactic acid building up in your muscles and it’s the reason why you feel pain and soreness. While some people naturally recover from this state faster than others, the use of ice baths has been found to significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for this pain and soreness to go away.

Some studies have also shown that using ice baths can actually help improve your performance in the gym. If you’ve ever wondered why some athletes take ice baths after a game, there’s a good reason for that. While there isn’t much research on the effects of using ice baths on performance, studies have found that taking one 30 minutes after exercise can significantly improve your strength and endurance during your next session in the gym.

These benefits were found to last up to 5 days after the initial treatment. Keep in mind that this research was only studied on people who exercise and your results may vary depending on your physical activity and how your body reacts.

While ice baths are great for treating pain and improving performance, they have some downsides too. One of the more common side effects is dizziness or feeling faint during or after the bath. It’s also not uncommon for your skin to be reddened or irritated after a cold water bath.

Depending on your skin type, you might want to consider using some kind of soap in the bath to prevent this.

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery - gym fit workout

One of the more serious risks with using ice baths is something called “cold shock”. This is a pretty serious condition which causes your blood pressure to drop rapidly after coming out of cold water. This can in some cases be life threatening and is more likely to happen if you come out of the water too quickly.

If you start to feel dizzy, light headed, weak or have chest pains after getting out of the bath, you should get medical help immediately.

To minimize these risks it’s recommended that you don’t use very cold water when starting out. Starting off with lukewarm water and slowly decreasing the temperature can help your body get used to the change in temperature. It’s also recommended that you do some light exercise first to warm yourself up before getting in the bath.

Whether you’re looking for faster recovery times, improved performance or just want to try something a little different, using ice baths is certainly a viable option. Just remember to take care when doing them and be sure to adapt the treatment to your specific needs.

The Ice Bath Treatment For Recovery And Performance: Is It Right For You?

So what can you expect if you decide to try ice baths?

Well, let’s go over how you can incorporate them into your routine and some of the benefits and potential side effects you can expect.

Are Ice Baths Good For You?

Ice baths have been used for decades by doctors and Physical therapists as a way to relieve pain and speed up muscle recovery. Recent studies have shown that an acute exposure to cold can actually protect your muscles from further damage. In addition, the cold water therapy causes your blood to divert to your internal organs in order to keep them from freezing. This phenomenon, known as “the diving reflex”, can also be observed in wild animals. It’s nature’s way of protecting the vital organs by shunting blood away from the skin and other non-vital organs so that the animal can preserve it’s life underwater. The diving reflex can actually help to protect and preserve muscle and nerve cells in some circumstances.

What Equipment Do You Need?

Obviously you will need a tub or shower large enough to immerse your body in cold water, a thermometer, a stopwatch, a towel and some way to monitor how long you are in the water (your smart phone will work just fine).

The Recovery Formula For Ice Baths

Step 1: Get into the tub and begin to slowly lower the temperature of the water. Starting with lukewarm water and adding cold will shock your body less.

Step 2: Monitor your body’s reaction to the water and stop the treatment if you start to feel lightheaded, shaky or weak. These are all signs of “cold shock” and mean that you need to get out of the bath immediately.

Step 3: Continue the treatment for a period of 20-45 minutes. It won’t hurt you to prolong the treatment but there is no additional benefit to doing so.

Step 4: After your treatment, dry yourself off and get dressed. You can expect your body temperature to be heavily reduced for the next few hours. You can use this time to nap or simply relax.

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery - | Gym Fit Workout

Step 5: Repeat this process 3-5 times a week. More isn’t necessarily better but you shouldn’t skimp out on the treatment sessions either.

The Benefits Of Ice Baths For Recovery And Performance Enhancement

There are a few reasons you might want to incorporate ice baths into your routine:

1. It Helps You Relax And Sleep Better

The drop in your body’s core temperature caused by the ice bath will trigger the “diving reflex” which will not only preserve your body’s energy but will also help you to relax and sleep better that night. It might also give you more vivid dreams.

2. It Speeds Up The Healing Process

Recent studies have shown that exposing muscles to short periods of cold can actually speed up the healing process by helping your muscles to regenerate faster. For example, it has been shown to help reduce and relieve chronic pain caused by overworked muscles. Immersing yourself in ice water won’t remove soreness but it can definitely help to keep it under control.

3. It Can Help Reduce Inflammation

By keeping your muscles cool, the ice bath can reduce the amount of swelling and inflammation you experience after a particularly grueling workout session.

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery - GYM FIT WORKOUT

4. It’s Easy And Inexpensive

It costs next to nothing to try and requires no special equipment. All you really need is a tub, some ice and a little time and you can get started right away.

Why Would You Use Ice Instead Of A Cool Bath?

A cold bath works similarly to an ice bath but using cold water instead of ice. Either method will help to regulate your body’s core temperature as well as provide a wide range of recovery benefits. However, an ice bath can be up to 10 times more effective than a cold bath for three main reasons:

1. It Reduces Muscle Soreness And Inflammation Significantly More Effectively

Taking an ice bath after your workout will help to reduce the amount of swelling in your muscles which means less pain and a greater range of motion. It will also speed up the breaking down of lactic acid which causes that “burning” sensation in your muscles.

2. It’s Way More Efficient

Most athletes only have a finite amount of time that they can set aside for their training and recovery. An ice bath will help you recover faster so you can get back to your normal training routines without having to waste time with excessive soreness and muscle pain.

3. It’s More Economical

Setting up an ice bath is extremely cheap and cost-effective. It will even save you money on your water bill! All you need is a tub, some ice and some water, though a little bath salt can help make your experience more comfortable.

Tips For Taking An Ice Bath

Taking an ice bath is not without its downsides and can be a difficult adjustment if you’ve never done it before. Here are a few tips that will make the process a lot easier:

1. Keep Your Heart Rate Low

When your body enters a state of cold shock, your heart rate can increase dramatically. This will not only make you feel uncomfortable but it can also increase the likelihood of blood clots forming which can be extremely dangerous. To avoid this from happening, try to keep your heart rate as low as you can by taking long, deep breaths and relaxing your muscles.

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery - GYM FIT WORKOUT

2. Focus On Keeping Warm

While it might seem counterintuitive, you need to focus on keeping your core temperature up when you get in the bath. If you enter the bath and immediately start shivering then you’re doing something wrong. To avoid this, take off your clothes beforehand and wrap yourself in a blanket before getting in.

3. Get In Slowly

You also want to get into the bath slowly to make sure that you don’t get cold too quickly. Getting in and out is also a bad idea as this can cause an abrupt change in temperature which can be extremely dangerous. Either find a bath that’s the right depth for your height or get a step stool so you can gently lower yourself in.

4. Stay In For At Least Five Minutes

Most sources recommend staying in the bath for at least five minutes however some suggest much longer. The longer you stay in, the more of a benefit you’ll get from it. If you do experience cold shock, don’t worry as this will pass and you’ll start to feel much better after your body adjusts.

Who Takes An Ice Bath?

Ice baths are most commonly used by elite athletes but anyone who’s physically active can benefit from taking one on occasion. Football players, rugby players, runners and even MMA fighters are among the most frequent users of ice baths.

Ice baths can be used after an event or during an event if the conditions are right. For example, ultra-marathon runners are known to take ice baths during their races to help them with the pain.

How Do I Make An Ice Bath At Home?

Making an ice bath at home is a pretty simple process and only requires a little bit of preparation:

1. Fill Your Tub

The amount of water that you’ll need to fill your bath entirely with ice will depend on your bathtub’s size. Most people recommend using a second bathroom and filling the bath up halfway with cold water. This means you’ll need to fill it up with around 80 pounds of ice which should take around 30-40 minutes.

2. Add Distilled White Vinegar

It’s also recommended that you add a cup of distilled white vinegar to the water which helps reduce the likelihood of the outside of the ice freezing, keeping it from becoming too dangerous to get in and out of the bath.

Ice Bath Better than Contrast Bath for Recovery - | Gym Fit Workout

3. Wait For The Ice To Melt

You can then wait for the ice to fully melt before getting in or you can speed up this process by pouring a kettle of hot water over it.

4. Get In

Once the ice has fully melted and you’re ready to get in, you should empty the bath entirely and refill it with warm water. This will help keep the water at a comfortable temperature without using too much energy. It’s also a good idea to enter the bath when it’s only half full to make sure that you don’t slip and fall.

Are There Any Risks?

Sources & references used in this article:

A random control trial of contrast baths and ice baths for recovery during competition in U/20 rugby union by TR Higgins, IT Heazlewood… – The Journal of Strength & …, 2011 –

Evaluation of passive recovery, cold water immersion, and contrast baths for recovery, as measured by game performances markers, between two simulated … by T Higgins, M Cameron, M Climstein – J Strength Cond Res, 2012 –

Variation of skin temperature during and after contrast bath therapy by A Martins, VWB Sá – Revista Andaluza de Medicina del Deporte, 2011 –

Contrast Bath Therapy for Runners: Is it Worth Your Time? by J Davis –



Contrast bath-induced neurite outgrowth in PC12m3 cells via the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway by H Motoda, F Hiragami, K Kawamura, S Inoue, Y Gomita… – Heliyon, 2019 – Elsevier