Athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike have taken up ice water baths as an immediate form of post-workout recovery. Also known as cold water immersion (CWI) or loosely referred to as a form of whole body cryotherapy, it entails submerging yourself in a vessel of cold water (roughly 50-59 degrees) after vigorous workouts or exposure to high heat such as a sauna, steam room or hot bath.
How it works
In theory, intense exercise causes micro tears in your muscle fibers with the goal of stimulating cell activity to repair the damage and strengthen muscles. Ice baths are believed to constrict blood vessels, flushing waste products out of the stressed tissues while also helping to reduce swelling. However, some argue that the icing muscles immediately after exercise actually decreases metabolic activity, slowing down physiological processes and hindering muscle fiber growth. Not the best news if you’re working towards those #gainz. Despite conflicting views, extensive research into the effects of CWI suggest measurable results observed by practitioners and athletes as advantageous.
The reduction in body temperature provides instant relief following intense physical exertion. It also limits the inflammatory response to facilitate faster recovery. Some even report improved reaction time and explosiveness. Soothing muscle soreness can aid in better sleep and consequently less fatigue in future workouts. This chain reaction contributes to elevated mood or simply put, it makes you feel good! CWI can also be used to lower the body temperature a few degrees before known exposure to extreme heat or humidity, such as marathons or triathlons. The sharp contrast from the intense heat to ice cold water naturally stimulates the vagus nerve which is an integral part of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for communication between many visceral organs such as the brain, heart and gut. In a method developed by “iceman” Wim Hof, utilizing breathing exercises during CWI helps to activate and strengthen the vagus nerve and in turn the mind body connection. Commitment to frequent exposure to conditions that force your body to adjust can make you more resilient to stress.
Timing is everything. The sooner you take an ice cold soak (or shower) after a workout, the better the effects. To avoid blood circulation issues or hypothermia, it is also important that exposure is limited to 10-15 minutes and the temperature is regulated between 50-59 degrees. Risks exist to those with cardiovascular diseases or HBP which can constrict blood vessels and slow the flow of blood in the body increasing potential threat of stroke or cardiac arrest. Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can be known to cause an inability to maintain core temperatures, especially during extreme changes. Please consult your doctor before taking the plunge.
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