Here’s why that ice bath habit might be doing more harm than good.
Ice baths and cold water immersion are enjoying a moment. Fans of the habit say it helps them recover from training, get focused, and even sleep better. But what does the science say… and can ice baths be detrimental to your health and fitness goals?
Why do people take ice baths
The term “ice bath” has taken on a flexible meaning. These days, the practice can range from literally filling a purpose-made tub with ice and cold water and sitting in it, to taking a dip in cold water. But why do people do it?
Most ice bathers (is that what we call them?) do it for two reasons: workout recovery, and mental clarity. People who take ice baths to recover from training say it reduces inflammation and improves blood flow. People who do ice baths for mental wellbeing feel it has a positive impact on the vagus nerve, reducing stress and boosting clarity.
What is the science behind ice baths
Are ice baths scientifically proven to help you recover from training and lead a calmer lifestyle? The research is mixed. Latest reviews suggest that cold water and ice can temporarily reduce pain, but may actually delay muscle healing. And, whilst it seems logical that the “shrinking” effect of cold also reduces inflammation, there’s little proof that this has a long-term impact on recovery.
There’s a whole movement built around cold water immersion and ice-related therapy. Wim Hof would have you believe that it holds the key to exercise recovery, long life, and all good things in between. But the science has yet to find a definitive answer.
As with most things, balance is key. If you enjoy an ice bath and genuinely feel it fits into your day with no negative effects - crack on. But don’t let ice baths become a rigid habit that rules your life. And, if it stops feeling good, don’t carry on.
Is an ice bath more harm than good
If you’re thinking about adding ice baths to your health and wellness lifestyle, there’s more to think about than “does it help exercise recovery”? You should also think about the logistics of it and what it might be keeping you from doing.
5 ways ice baths might ruin your fitness goals
1. You hate doing it
If you really don’t enjoy ice baths or cold water dips, don’t do it. You know what they say, the best habit are the ones you can show up and do consistently for years. Even if it turns out that ice baths are amazing for recovery, you’re not going to do it if you don’t enjoy it. Find something enjoyable that contributes to recovery instead.
2. You’re skipping on sleep
Are you setting an alarm to do an ice bath before the rest of your morning routine? Are you missing out on sleep in order to get it done? Maybe it would be better to have the extra 30 minutes sleep instead. Morning routines are only healthy if you can actually fit them in.
3. You feel tied to the rigid routine
Do you feel honour-bound to carry on with the ice bath habit even though you really don’t enjoy it? Has the routine started to feel like it’s running your life? Then don’t do it. All healthy habits should be a positive addition to your life.
4. You give up other habits to do it
If you’ve replaced all other methods of recovery with ice baths, it’s time to rethink your approach. Good recovery includes sleep, rest, stretching or mobility, hydration, good nutrition, and gentle activity. You can’t skimp on everything else and expect ice baths to work magic.
5. It’s keeping you from other aspects of training
If you’re consistently missing conditioning sessions/mobility work/skills practice in favour of ice baths, the ice bath is probably ruining your goals. Don’t cut workouts short in order to get in the ice bath, or skip key sessions in favour of cold-water immersion. Do the fundamentals first, then add ice bath therapy if you have the spare time.
Check out the Gravity Fitness store for the world’s leading calisthenics and unconventional training equipment so you can train your way – any time, anywhere, any way you choose.
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