Why ice baths are terrible for post-workout recovery

I used to swear by ice baths.

When I used to participate in long-distance triathlons regularly, I had to train for 10 to 15 hours a week, and on many of those days, I used ice baths post-workout.

I used to swear by the benefits: my legs "felt" fully recovered the next day, ready for the next hellish workout!

My legs "felt" recovered, but were they really?

Virtually EVERY SINGLE study on "cold water immersion" and ice baths post workout have revealed the same thing: they SLOW DOWN your recovery.

The fact that your muscles "feel" better is because the inflammation process triggered by the workout has been SHUT DOWN by the cold water, and that's NOT a good thing.

The inflammation process is the process by which your body REPAIRS itself, so that it can grow stronger. 

The formula to get fit is:

  1. Train hard
  2. Allow body to recover
  3. Train hard again
  4. Recover
  5. Reach a new level of fitness

The effect if ice baths and cold water immersion is:

  1. Train hard
  2. Ice bath
  3. Recovery interrupted but you "feel" recovered
  4. Train hard again
  5. Unable to reach the same level of fitness

In fact, this was further proven by this recent study which compared the effect of "cold water immersion" on "real" recovery as follows:

  • 5min in 9C water
  • 5min in 14C water
  • 15min in 9C water
  • 15min in 14C

Guess which one resulted in the best recovery in the 72 hours following the protocol?

That's right, it was the 15min at 14C, NOT the 15min at 9C!

If you want to really optimize recovery, than a better protocol to follow would  be a "hot-cold protocol".

By alternating hot and cold water (30 seconds each) for 5min: you're significantly increasing blood flow to the muscles:

  • Hot water causes blood vessels to expand and blood to rush into the muscles carrying oxygen and nutrients
  • Cold water causes blood vessels to contract and blood rushes out, carrying toxins and lactic acid
  • Repeating this procedure for 5min means you're delivering significant nutrients to the muscles and taking away toxins, thereby accelerating the recovery process

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