Should I warm up to the idea of an ice bath?

April 12, 2022

We probably don’t have to dwell long here on the importance of a good recovery plan when training. 

Whether it’s a session with the foam rollers or some low intensity stretches, it’s now widely recognised that the activity you do on your rest days – in fact having those rests in the first place – is arguably as important as the exercising itself.

Cold Water Immersion – ice baths to you and me – is a method of recovery which is rising in popularity. The question is, does it work?

There have been many claims made about the effects of CWI

Much has been said and much has been written about the benefits to be gained by immersing the body into an ice bath post-training. Claimed benefits have included: -

  • Reduced muscle pain
  • Improved recovery
  • Faster recovery time
  • Decreased Cardiac stress
  • Stronger immune system

Studies have produced varying results

The idea that there’s something out there which can boost athletic performance and stamina is one which is going to attract attention, not to mention attract investment for research.

Studies so far seem to have reached a wide range of conclusions. There have certainly been some indications that CWI can reduce the presence of the inflammatory marker, Neopterin, and therefore most probably can decrease inflammation within the muscles after a hard training session.

Athletes themselves regularly say that their ice bath routines make them feel like they are recovering better. In truth, studies suggest that they probably perform less well immediately after their chilly submersion. The fact that many have spoken of feeling stronger, being less fatigued and enjoying a better quality of sleep suggests that the perception of ice bathing is probably more powerful than the real benefits being achieved.

When it comes to claims that ice baths can strengthen the immune system, we’d have to conclude that the jury is out. With varying results being achieved, and much talk of perception rather than solid evidence, it’s probably fair to say that any uplift in immunity can at least partly be attributed to the deep breathing which contact with the cold water causes. Deep breathing, and meditation in general, have long been associated with a boost in immunity.

If Hypertrophy– the building of new muscle tissue – is your thing, regular cold water immersion may not be for you. In a 2020 study, reduced levels of the proteins essential for Hypertrophy were found in athletes who had undertaken sustained sessions of CWI. So, whilst the aches and pains may be relieved, your goal of building muscle could actually be hindered.

Is it time to get the ice out or time to pull the plug on cold water immersion?

It’s clear that we don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms by which ice bathing post-exercise can assist or resist a faster, better recovery.

High level athletes worldwide seem to swear by the power of the ice bath to keep their performance at its peak, but there is little evidence to prove that the benefit is real rather than perceived. That being said, when it comes to getting the maximum from your training sessions, how you feel is just as important as what the monitors say you are achieving. 

My over-riding advice is that, just like anything new in your fitness routine, ice baths should be introduced gradually. Most studies are carried out using a bath at 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes, but I’d suggest that this be a target rather than a starting point! There is an element of shock when lowering yourself into ice to your mid-torso and I’d wager that 30 seconds may feel like an icy eternity…


If you are ready to take the plunge then speak to your Personal Trainer first. As well as giving you some helpful pointers, they can indicate any medical reasons why your GP should perhaps also be consulted. Of course, I am always at the end of the phone to assist with this or any other exercise dilemmas.



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