Cryotherapy – I was doing it first!
I remember back when I used to play ice hockey, one of my coaches once told me of the benefits of having a cold bath. He said it would aid muscle soreness and help the body recover after a hard week of training. He said it would help me to recover in time for games (which normally took place on the weekend).
My coach recommended 10-20 minutes or so with mainly the legs (the most used body part used in ice hockey) submerged in a bath filled with cold water. And he suggested doing this the morning of game day. So I did.
My Weekend Cold Bath Routine
Almost every Saturday and Sunday for nearly 2 years, I would fill the bath tub up to about chest level with water on the lowest temperature setting out the tap. It would take me about 5 painful minutes to gradually get into the bath, with my breathing thrashing and my heart rate pumping like I’d been running hill sprints. Once finally in the bath, I would start my timer and would stay in there for 15 even more painful minutes. Often, I would listen to music to help pass the time, but it didn’t help much. 15 minutes doesn’t sound like long, but it felt like days! Once the timer finally beeped, I would jump out of the bath and it would feel like my skin was burning as the regular room temperature hit me! It was awful. So why did I carry on doing this each weekend, despite how much I hated it? Simple – it worked!
It worked for me
I must admit that it worked! No matter how sore or tired my muscles were before I got into that Godforsaken cold bath, I always felt the soreness gone afterwards. Which is why I continued to do it!
Fast forward years later to present day, where it is now common practice for athletes from a variety of sports to be using similar recovery practices through cold water immersion / cryotherapy. It is absolutely no surprise to me that this is the case! I was doing it first lol. And I saw first-hand the benefits of it!
Do I still do it?
I will happily admit that I have NOT used cold baths / cryotherapy since I stopped playing hockey, even though I am convinced of its recovery benefits. I just really really really don’t like it, so I don’t do it!
Are there negatives of doing it?
Actually yes, it seems that you should avoid a cold bath right after training if your goal is muscle size/strength. There is research to suggest that it slows muscle growth.
Where’s the proof that it works?
If you know me well enough, you know that I like to back up my own experiences and opinions with scientific literature when possible.
First let’s look at why it works:
The reason seems to be that when exposing the body to cold temperatures, it releases norepinephrine (a hormone), which helps remove inflammation.
It appears that cold baths constrict blood vessels to “flush” lactic acid (a waste product that causes muscle soreness – DOMS).
There is some evidence that concluded that cold water immersion reducing DOMS (delayed muscle soreness), but it could not conclude that it improved recovery or reduced fatigue.
One review showed that 11 – 15 minutes of cold-water immersion should be sufficient to see the benefits of it.
Warm up again after!
I will close this post by stating the importance of making sure that you warm your body up again afterwards, and to give yourself enough time to do so. I couldn’t imagine a worse feeling than trying to partake in hard exercise shortly after stepping out of a cold bath!