Benefits of Ice Baths for Martial Artists
There is a lot of talk about the benefits of using ice baths for exercise recovery. You can find many examples of videos on YouTube of people using ice baths (also known as cold water immersion therapy) after sporting events or strenuous workouts. As we know, just because someone does something it doesn’t necessarily mean that is beneficial. This article looks into whether ice baths are beneficial for exercise recovery, and the benefits of ice baths for martial artists.
There isn’t much understood as to how ice baths work to improve recovery after exercise. One hypotheses is that a benefit of an ice bath is that it helps to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue . It is understood that cold water, like those found in ice baths, helps to lower the body’s core and skin temperature. This in turn increases the ability to store heat. Ice baths also causes the constriction of blood vessels, which increases a greater volume of blood in the central body. The constriction of blood vessels is thought to aid in reducing the inflammation caused by exercise.
In a recent study, Dr. Lace Dalleck and his research team in the High Altitude Exercise Physiology Program at Western State Colorado University found that ice baths as part of exercise recover help to limit performance decreases. This study supports the findings in another study, which found that cold water immersion may help to reduce swelling and allow for a shorter recovery time.
Dr. Dalleck’s research found that short periods of cold water immersion, such as 10 minutes, had similar effects as longer immersion times, such as 20 minutes of duration. Other research confirms that longer times do not necessarily equate to providing better results.
Dr. Dalleck and his team further found that prolonged use of ice baths as part of an exercise recovery program did not have negative effects on training adaptations. This finding conflicts with another study that found that cold water immersion after exercise negates the expected growth in muscle mass and strength gains.
What this means for martial artists – especially those that have intense training sessions – is one of the benefits of ice baths for martial artists as a post-training recovery method, in addition to time for rest, is the ability to help maintain endurance and power performance between sessions. Thankfully a short dip of 10 minutes is as effective as a longer one. Another thing to keep in mind is that cold water immersion was as equally effective two hours after training as an ice bath immediately following training. That means another one of the benefits of ice baths for martial artists is that you don’t have to rush home to take advantage of this helpful training recovery strategy.
With the above in mind, ice baths may be better suited for short-term use to help recover from a strenuous martial arts training – especially when you need to get back to training in a short period of time. Long-term use of ice baths may mitigate your training gains. Since there is conflicting research as to whether or not cold water immersion is beneficial for long-term use, stick to using it as a short-term recovery method.
After reading this, you may be asking: “Can I substitute a cold shower for an ice bath?” Well, the jury is still out on this one. If you don’t have the means to take an ice bath (or just don’t want to hasle with one), the optimal temperature for ice baths or cold showers are approximately 55° F (approximately 13° C) . So if you can get your shower to 55° F, and stand under it for at least 10 minutes, I would say give it a shot. There is no guarantee that it will be as effective as cold water immersion, and at the same time it would be better than not taking an ice cold shower.
 (n.d.). The Effect of Cold Water Immersion … – American Council on Exercise.
 (n.d.). Effect of Cold-Water Immersion on Elbow Flexors Muscle Thick…
 (n.d.). Cold Showers Lead to Fewer Sick Days – Harvard Business Review.
 (2015, August 13). Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic … – NCBI.
 (n.d.). Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems … – NCBI.
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