Tip: Ball-Freezing Ice Baths: Worth It?

Do ice baths help with workout recovery? Are they better than contrast showers? That info and more here.

Freeze Your Balls Off to Recover Faster?

The idea of taking an ice bath sounds about as appealing as chewing razorblades. But it's not as bad as it sounds. After all, you kind of go numb after about two minutes anyway.

Ice baths have been around forever. Hippocrates was a fan. Egyptian emperors were fans. Heck, even Charles Darwin was a fan. Why? Because immersing yourself in freezing water seems to have benefits, including lowering blood pressure, helping to ease depression and anxiety symptoms, and even helping you lose fat (cold thermogenesis).

In a recent meta-analysis comparing cold water immersion (ice baths) with contrast water therapy (going from hot to cold or vice versa), researchers found that ice baths were more effective than contrast showers in several key areas. Cold water immersion blunted the release of creatine kinase better than the contrast method following bouts of HIIT. Ice baths also lowered perceived muscle soreness to a greater extent.

Cold water immersion puts out the inflammation fire by causing vasoconstriction (shrinking of blood vessels) which slows the inflammatory response. The less inflammation that occurs, the less pain you feel after a tough workout.

Cold water immersion also decreases something called "secondary muscle damage." When you have an intense workout, calcium homeostasis is disrupted and can lead to oxidative damage in your muscles. While some damage is necessary for growth, too much isn't good.

Time and Temp

The researchers found just the right time and temperature for optimal results. One hour post-exercise, hop in an ice bath for 14-18 minutes. Water temp should be 48-54 degrees.

How to Take an Ice Bath at Home

Buy 1-2 bags of ice. Run a bath of freezing water and toss in the ice. You can get super nerdy and dunk a thermometer in the water or you can just trust that the water is really, really cold.

Get in, curse a few times, and wait until you go numb. Set a timer for 14-18 minutes, sit back, and chill.

  1. Shevchuk NA, "Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression", Medical Hypotheses 70 (2008)
  2. Aaron M. Cypess, "Identification and Importance of Brown Adipose Tissue in Adult Humans", The New England Journal of Medicine 360 (2009)
Tessa Gurley is the owner of Enliven Wellness, and a nerd about all things health and fitness. Tessa is currently working on her Master's in integrative medicine, and strives to empower her clients and readers so they can live their most vital lives. Follow Tessa Gurley on Facebook