Cryotherapy is the technique of exposing your body to extreme cold temperatures for several minutes at a time in order to rejuvenate and refresh your body. It’s become more prominent in recent years thanks to people like Wim Hof, who believe that cryotherapy can induce fat loss, create a better immune system, balance hormone levels, improve sleep quality, and boost endorphin production.
It isn’t new; the ancient Greeks used a process called thermalism, which used water at different temperatures to help ease not only muscle fatigue but other health problems too. It’s been used ever since, especially by athletes. (Source)
The most common form of cryotherapy is an ice bath, which is literally baths of ice cubes or freezing water kept at between 10–15° Celsius or 50–59° Fahrenheit. I
f you’re looking at cryotherapy to help boost your triathlon or endurance training and performance, you are probably wondering how often you should have an ice bath to get the benefit.
So, how many ice baths a week you should take? While taking one ice / cold bath a week is widely common, many athletes opt to take a cold or ice bath on a daily basis, however, the more often the person is exposed to the cold bath the less the beneficial impact of each bath.
In general, it really depends on your training plan and race schedule; ice baths can be a key component in a recovery plan to get your body recovered as fast as possible, so they should be deployed during periods of high-intensity training or racing to give you a recovery edge.
- Why Do Athletes Take Ice Baths?
- Do Ice Bath Actually Work?
- When Should You Take an Ice Bath & When Should You Avoid One?
- How Often Should You Take an Ice Bath?
- Are Daily Ice Baths Good for You?
- How Long Should You Spend in An Ice Bath?
- Should I Stretch After an Ice Bath?
- Do Ice Baths Boost Testosterone?
Why Do Athletes Take Ice Baths?
Athletes take ice baths for a range of reasons, but they’re all related to recovery and getting the body back to its best form as fast as possible.
The first aspect is that the lower temperature of the ice bath causes your blood vessels to constrict. Once you climb out, these open back up again as your body warms up. This helps your body get rid of metabolic waste from your muscles and also helps increase the speed at which oxygenated blood gets to your muscles. Both can significantly speed up recovery.
After the initial shock of the temperature drop, ice baths can be a deeply pleasant way to cool off your aching muscles.
Some athletes also use ice baths for weight loss. Cold temperatures activate brown adipose fat and muscles. These then release a pair of hormone which burns off white fat. Your body does this to generate heat to keep your body warm, but using it in a controlled way can help to burn fat. (Source)
Also, check out our post “Should You Shower After And Before a Run? (Hot VS Cold Water)“
Do Ice Bath Actually Work?
Ice baths have been shown to have many benefits, and increase not only recovery but performance too. Ice baths have been shown to decrease perceived muscle soreness, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and decrease creatine kinase levels, which indicate muscle damage. These all indicate a real benefit in terms of recovery.
However, it’s not the only benefit; ice baths have also been shown to improve neuromuscular performance, which can help with explosive activities like jumping or sprinting. That’s not necessarily a benefit for longer distance triathlons, but it can provide a benefit in shorter distances, in explosive training sessions, and in the all-important sprint for the line! (Source)
In addition to the above, Icebath helps in losing fat, improving immunity, reducing depression, and dropping stress levels. For more on this check the video below,
When Should You Take an Ice Bath & When Should You Avoid One?
The best time to take an ice bath is immediately after a workout, but up to two hours after can still provide a benefit. Ice baths primarily provide a recovery benefit, so taking an ice bath without doing exercise beforehand won’t have any benefits for your muscles however, regular exposure to cold water does have other benefits, which are discussed later on.
The main benefits of cryotherapy are related to reducing muscle fatigue and speeding up recovery. The quicker you take your ice bath, the bigger the benefit; that’s because your muscles have more waste products to get rid of.
How Often Should You Take an Ice Bath?
One can take an ice bath anytime they need to recover fast, but he/she needs to be careful; ice baths suffer from a phenomenon known as the law of diminishing returns; the more exposure to ice baths you put your body through, the less effect it has. (Source)
That’s why you should try and reserve ice baths for the times when you need your body to recover as soon as possible; that means your toughest training sessions, after a race where you’ve gone hard or when you need to go hard again soon after.
If you find it hard to access a cold plunge pool or cold baths in general, then consider getting one of those Portable Foldable bathtubs (Amazon Link). It only takes 2 minutes to assemble and is quite easy to set.
If you want to make your own Ice Bath, we highly recommend that you check out our post DIY Ice Bath – All You Need to Know !
Are Daily Ice Baths Good for You?
The evidence around daily ice baths is patchy. However, the benefits of the practice of exposing yourself to cold water every day are very much established. They have much the same benefits as ice baths and taking them daily can have other benefits too, such as boosting your immune system and helping fight depression. (Source)
Regular cold water exposure is easiest by reducing the number of hot showers you take and replacing them with cold ones. As well as providing most of the benefits of ice baths, having regular cold showers has the added advantage of being more practical. It’s far easier to turn on a shower and turn it to cold than filling up a bathtub with ice. It also means that you can get the added benefit after a training session where there may not be a bath, such as the gym, a friend’s house, or the beach.
How Long Should You Spend in An Ice Bath?
The recommendation is that you spend between ten and twenty minutes in the bath. The most important part of the ice bath is the first few seconds; this is because it’s the key period for your brain to adjust to the temperature.
The first time you use an ice bath, you may need to approach it differently. You might need to slowly get into the ice bath to avoid overly shocking your body the first few times you do it. After the first time, it’s best to just climb in. The first time, you may also experience some significant strength loss in your muscles – there have been cases of being unable to climb out of their baths.
To get the maximum benefit, it’s best to immerse your whole body in the ice bath, not just part of it. You may need to mix ice and water to cover your body fully. Don’t worry about not covering everything with ice; you should still get the same effect.
We also recommend that you check out our post “Can Swimming in Cold Water Make You Sick? What You Must Know!“
Should I Stretch After an Ice Bath?
Regardless of wether you’re about to jump into an ice bath, it’s best to do some post-exercise stretching. If you are having an ice bath, let your muscles warm up before you start working them again.
In fact, it’s probably best to stretch before you hit the ice bath. Your muscles will feel cooler and more relaxed, but also a little stiffer. Stretching beforehand can make your ice bath a lot more comfortable as you’ll feel so much more relaxed.
Do Ice Baths Boost Testosterone?
The evidence that ice baths or cryotherapy increase testosterone levels are incredibly slim; however, the evidence that it increases fertility in men is not. A 2007 study showed that reducing exposure to warm water and increasing exposure to cold resulted in an increase in sperm count of nearly 500%. (Source)
If you’re taking ice baths or cold showers it’s likely you have a very active lifestyle; taking part in regular and intense physical exercise will have more of a role in boosting your testosterone levels. (Source).
We also highly recommend that you check out our post ” Does Running, Cycling or Swimming Kill Testosterone? How To Deal with It!“