Before my daughter started running cross country I, for the most part, would say her pain tolerance was about a 4 on a scale of 1-10. She wasn’t big on pushing through things or the whole No Pain No Gain theories. It wasn’t long into her first summer training with the team that she was having some soreness after practice and it was suggested she try an ice bath. So you have to picture this middle school girl sitting down into a huge tub filled water and more ice than Coors uses for its cold brewing. She sat in that water, which came up to her chest, for 8 minutes. We soon found out that frequently team members, especially the boys, give up before their timer is done. I immediately jumped her score in my mind from a 4 to at least a 7.
If you are new to this running thing you may be thinking what kind of crazy person would sit in ice water. My answer would be the kind of crazy person that would run for 2 hours without being chased by a bear. In reality ice baths help reduce swelling much quicker and easier than ice packs. It is said that they reduce muscle soreness and that the icy water makes the blood in the legs recede. As the legs warm up that blood is replaced with new oxygenated blood that helps the muscles recover. There are some conflicting beliefs about how helpful ice baths truly are, but from what I can see from personal experience and the experiences of the runners I have been involved with it is extremely helpful. Plus I haven’t read any article that says it is harmful, just that it may not be helpful. So I say give it a try.
The first thing you need to know about making your ice bath is that you probably don’t have enough ice. To do it right in your bath tub you should have at least one of the large bags of ice from the gas station probably more. All the ice in the typical home ice maker won’t get the job done. It will make you colder than you want to be, but not cold enough to make a difference. So go get a bunch of ice run the tub about half full of cold water and pour in the ice. Have a seat and relax for the next 8 minutes. After you have done an ice bath you will laugh at that last statement. If you can relax sitting in the ice bath I promise you that you don’t have enough ice. It will not feel good. Moving makes it worse. Sit still and tough it out. Your legs will thank you….eventually.