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The Highly Anticipated, Often Dreaded Ice Bath

April 29, 2010

The picture you see here is of me, after my first marathon, sitting in a tub of ice in a Portland, Oregon hotel. It was 2003.

It took me some time to warm up to the idea of an ice bath (pun intended). Having spent most of my life in Alaska, I detested the cold and had no intention of ever placing myself in a freezing environment again if I could help it. During training for my first marathon, I would hear my coach recommend ice baths to his clients and I shuddered at the thought of it. Finally, after one particularly difficult training run, my achy, stiff legs convinced me to try otherwise.

It was so worth it.

The day the photo above was taken, I had finished my first and worst marathon ever. I was in a lot of pain. Sitting in this tub was like dousing a match in a cool glass of water. It was absolute, instant relief. Itโ€™s not always that dramatic, (nor should it be!) but the often dreaded ice bath will consistently allow your muscles to recover faster and reduce soreness by curbing inflammation resulting from microtears in the tissue. It is well worth ten minutes of discomfort, I promise!

That said, after hearing tales of runners prepping the tub and hopping in butt naked (and right back out!) I thought it may be important to share the best and easiest way to give yourself an ice bath. This comes from years of personal experience and a healthy aversion to the cold.

1) Suit up! Only your legs need to be submerged, which means you get to wear hats, gloves, and sweaters on the top half to keep your core nice and warm. Note the stunning model to the left (I did not pack my winter hat for Boston and tossed my gloves at mile 6, so I wasn’t as well insulated for this bath).

2) Place an inch or so of warm water in the bottom of the tub. This warms the porcelain and offers a nice transitional phase into the ice bath.

3) Hop into the tub, half-dressed, and turn the handle all the way to cold. Let the water rise until it is just above your thighs.

4) Dump in 2-3 bags of ice as the finishing touch. Bathe for 5-10 minutes, distracting yourself with a good book, that upcoming trip to Hawaii, reliving the glory of your athletic prowess, or conversation with a close friend who is sitting atop the toilet next to you.

5) Polish it off with a nice, warm shower and a happy dance!

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12 Comments

  • Reply Rachel April 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Ice baths are the best. I find drinking a nice hot latte or cocoa helps a lot too!

  • Reply Tamara April 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Don’t your legs get numb?? How do you get up? lol. I think I’m gonna have to do it after running the flying pig half-marathon (my first one ever) here in Cincinnati. Thanks for the tips ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Sandy April 29, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I never thought of this but makes sense! Have my first 1/2 Marathon in a couple months so this may be my savior! Thanks!

  • Reply Aimee Gallo April 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Sometimes my toes get numb, but the legs are good. Only stay in for about ten minutes! You won’t get frostbite – I promise!

    Ladies; this is a great trick to try not just after your race, but after any tough workout where your legs feel achy, cramping, or spasming.

    Rachel – I’ve eaten oatmeal in my icebath, but I like the idea of a hot, creamy beverage even more!

  • Reply Jade Gianakopoulos April 30, 2010 at 5:54 am

    Thank you for these great tips. I do ice baths, but not enough and I will definitely try these tips. I especially like the part about starting with an inch of warm water. Thank you Thank you!

  • Reply Kathleen@ForgingAhead April 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Excellent tips! I have yet to do one of these but from your article I get that it would help me recover and it even seems manageable. Just.

  • Reply Jen Schongalla May 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    haha! LOVE this post! LOVE ice baths…and their wilderness cousins, the icy stream bath, icy lake bath and icy ocean bath ๐Ÿ™‚ have been a fan of these for a long time and they work. plus you get into interesting conversations when people drive by the lake on a windy november day and see you bundled up in winter gear, standing hip-deep in the water with snowflakes blowing around! it’s the BEST! i like to put on neoprene kayaking booties so that my feet can stay in the water long enough for the legs to reap the benefit ๐Ÿ™‚ but i have to say i have never tried the home version with latte…sounds dreamy!

  • Reply Catherine Dickson May 2, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I’ll be spreading the word over ice baths to soothe the aches! Seems like a perfect prescription, really. I especially like the hot cocoa, latte (and oatmeal) reference here, and layers: that works for me after getting in, I’m sure–thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Mary DeLaney May 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Aimee,
    Ditto all the way on ice baths! One of my clients wears neoprene socks when he does the ice bath. He can’t tolerate the icy toes. Thanks for the article.

  • Reply Suzie Cooney from Maui May 23, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Aloha Aimee,

    Gloves and hats off to you! Thanks for sharing this great information and although I can’ run like that anymore, I’ll pass along to my clients. Be well and take good care, Suzie

  • Reply Rachel Coleman June 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I am currently in preparation for my first triathlon and have heard a lot of people recommending that we jump back in the river once the event is over. They say the recovery is so much better!
    I’m in… (pun also intended)

  • Reply Tahra June 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I now have relented myself. After a painful run I walked in the SF Bay, (luckily my runs are along the ocean and it’s easy to do right away) i hate kit surfers, boarders and dogs on teh beach to distract me for 10min. I still hurt after but the next day I was better

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