Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz in an ice bath

What Benefits Do Athletes Get From Ice Baths?

Ice baths have long been used by athletes as a method of recovery for their many benefits.

If you’ve seen someone you know posting a photo of themselves sitting in a tub filled with ice and thought to yourself, that looks painful, you’re not alone. For a long time, professional athletes have been using cold-water immersion to help with their recovery, but recently, this method, also commonly referred to as ice baths, has become more and more popular. From athletes like LeBron James to stars like Harry Styles and Lady Gaga, it seems that many find this method of recovery worth the discomfort.

Taking an ice bath is exactly what it sounds like — dunking yourself in a tub of very cold water for up to 15 minutes. The temperature of the water can range from 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. This definitely doesn’t sound appealing to everyone, but, many people swear by it and trust the benefits one’s body can get out of it.

Here are some of the ways you can benefit from regular ice baths.

Athletes can get many benefits from ice baths
(Photo credit: SHIV Recovery on Instagram)
Reduce pain and inflammation

One of the main reasons why athletes choose to take ice baths is because cold temperatures can decrease inflammation in the body by constricting blood vessels. This could decrease the swelling in your body which causes pain and muscle soreness, especially after a workout. Many athletes prefer to schedule their ice baths after their training sessions for this reason — doing so could reduce the chances of experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Relieve sore muscles

If you’re already feeling sore from a workout or a tough training session, taking an ice bath can still have its benefits. The cold water can numb pain receptors, which could lower the soreness you feel in your body. But apart from just numbing your body, it could also boost your recovery rate. After you finish an ice bath session, blood circulation increases in your body, which will help your muscles recover faster.

Lower body temperatures

Ice baths can lower your body temperature — no kidding. But don’t underestimate the power this could have, especially for athletes in the Philippines. Cold-water immersion can help one’s body cool down after being overheated from a workout or training session, whether you have been building heat indoors or under the sun. Thus, athletes enjoy the benefits of cooling down using ice baths to avoid heat exhaustion.

Athletes Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly in ice baths
(Photo credit: Scuderia AlphaTauri on Twitter)
Improve sleep

Given the cooldown benefits that regular ice baths can give athletes, many athletes find that another additional benefit is improved sleep quality. After taking an ice bath, especially if you do so after exercise, your body will remain cold for a period of time which can help you feel more relaxed throughout the remainder of the day. With this, you may find that at the end of the day, you are able to sleep better, which, in turn, helps you gain even deeper recovery.

Boost mental health

Although regular ice baths can help athletes cool down, it would be wrong to say that being plunged in extremely cold water is comfortable. In fact, in the beginning, this recovery method can be very uncomfortable and even painful at times, which can force you to focus on your breathing to get through the discomfort. Practicing breathing exercises while taking a cold-water plunge is something that experts actually recommend, and these will help you relax, boost recovery, and improve focus.

Cold-water immersion was also found in a small study to have improved quality of life among its participants and decrease pain, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Should you start taking ice baths?

While there are several benefits to taking regular ice baths, research on the topic is still relatively limited and results tend to be mixed, so be sure to take all this with a grain of salt. Cold-water immersion is not a definitive cure for any physical issues. But, given its potential benefits, trying this method of recovery and seeing if it fits into your current regimen may be worth your fingers getting numb for just a few minutes.

Banner image from Carlos Sainz on Instagram.

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