Are ice baths worth the agony?

In the past, after any long run of 18 or more, I’d take a cold water bath (too wimpy to go all the way to ice!). I swore by them for recovery. Only 10 minutes would be enough to make a difference for me.

This might be taking it to an extreme!

This year, however, I haven’t been able to coax myself into the cold water; not sure why, but I can’t seem to handle them anymore. The interesting thing? I don’t notice any difference. In fact, I’ve mentioned before that I am recovering faster/better than ever before this year, which I chalk up to better running form. Whatever the case, it turns out that ice baths may not be the cure all for recovery that many of us think anyhow.

I did a little research into it, and the evidence on ice baths is conflicting at best. Some, like this one, show that the cold water does a great job at jump starting your muscles recovery process. Other studies, however, claim that ice baths do no good and in fact, might even stall recovery.

Hard to know what do do, but I’d stick with this–if it seems to work for you, do it. If not, then don’t put yourself through the torture just because you think it’s the right thing. I can’t say that I miss my time in the cold water this year!

Do you take ice/cold water baths after long runs? 

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  1. says

    Yes, I take ice baths after long runs. I also took ice baths when recovering from shin splints. It is hell sitting in an ice bath for 20 minutes, but it sure helps my muscles bounce back a little faster.
    Ara recently posted..Processed FoodsMy Profile

  2. says

    I love the way you approached this – sometimes I feel like I am rereading another article in someone’s post !!
    I don’t ice bath. I always say I should, but then I wonder, why? I have never been injured and have never had any recovery issues after a long run. I stretch a bit but find that the best remedy for me is a 5-7 mile shakeout run the next day.
    Michele @ nycrunningmama recently posted..Post-Pregnancy GoalMy Profile

  3. says

    I tried cold baths, but I am not sure if they really help, and since I only have a shower at home, I sometimes shower my legs with the coldest water possible, but I also do that when I didn’t just came back from a run. I just think it’s really refreshing!
    Nina recently posted..Running-HomeMy Profile

  4. says

    I’ve often wondered about icing. I think if it’s giving you a huge benefit, then you need to examine other aspects of your running. Ice will decrease inflammation….but why are you inflamed?
    Ice works for immediate injuries, but I would rather not slow blood flow to an area in recovery.
    Like you, I think if it works for you, good; if not, skip it!
    Gracie recently posted..I got my Boston bib number!My Profile

  5. says

    I can’t even swim in a competition pool because it’s too cold. I’m so anti ice bath it’s not funny. But I agree, if it works for you, keep it up. What works for me is a steaming hot, HOT bath.
    Joanne recently posted..Nutritional GoodiesMy Profile

  6. says

    I’ve never taken an ice bath, and probably never will. I will take a cool bath, however, but not so much for recover as for lowering my body temperature after a hot run. Instead, I prefer compression and super-slow recovery runs more beneficial after long runs/races.
    Viper recently posted..The Short Shake OutMy Profile

  7. says

    I’ve never taken a ice bath and have no plans to start. For me it’s because the majority of articles I’ve read concluded that ice baths produce a “placebo effect” rather than significant recovery benefits. So I’ll stick with stretching!
    Theresa @ActiveEggplant recently posted..InsanityMy Profile

  8. says

    I did them all the time in college at the trainer’s.. it’s a little more inconvenient to do them now. Those first 3 minutes before the numbness is total agony.. Now I usually only do them after big races and I think they help when your legs are aching from the inflammation. And I always take at least 1 total recovery day after a big race. :)
    Amy (@RunningArmyWife) recently posted..Things I Love LatelyMy Profile

  9. says

    I used to ice bath religiously, after any run over 10 miles. Then I stopped. And I don’t really notice any difference. I probably feel better with foam rolling religiously, than I ever did in the ice bath.
    Heather recently posted..Plan for the Week….My Profile

  10. says

    I take ice baths after anything over 16 miles or so. I would love to know if it didn’t really help since it is self-induced torture :) but I am a believer and have noticed a difference when I have skipped it.
    Erin Henderson recently posted..StrengthMy Profile

  11. says

    Being as my “long runs” haven’t been too long lately, I haven’t had reason for an ice bath in about a year. But, when I was marathon training I took several, and I definitely felt like they helped. I did a 9 hour adventure race the day after a terrible 20 mile run, and I could barely walk at the end of the run. I attribute that to the ice, because I”m sure not that tough!
    Kate recently posted..She said: LBL Challenge 24-hour Adventure Race (part 1)My Profile

  12. says

    I am going to be blunt here: F ice baths. Not for me. Did them a few times and hated them because I am a cold water wimp.

    I now use Arctic Ease but I have a rule that the run/bike/swim or overall training has to be more than 2 hours otherwise I just plop on compression sleeves/socks.

    And still I don’t stretch after either…..take that science……haha!
    Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race recently posted..Polenta Fries and SausageMy Profile

  13. says

    I love/hate my ice baths, but it has to be after a long run. To me it is also like a badge of honor type thing. Does it work? I dunno, just like shaving my leggs doesn;t really make me faster, but I still do it.
    James recently posted..That’s What She Said!My Profile

  14. says

    No ice baths for me. Research has popped up recently like you said that an ice bath can prevent recovery, so because I don’t like to be cold I’m going with that. In fact ever since I have stopped icing and static stretching I haven’t had any injuries, and that has been about 3 years. But who really knows, these days there are so many bogus articles out there that it’s hard to believe anything.
    Britt @ Chicago Runner Girl recently posted..CHM Training Week 8 RecapMy Profile

  15. says

    Did an ice bath once and it was brutal! It’s funny I was just reading a debate among some runners on FB about ice vs. epsom salts. I’d never tried epsom salts so I gave it a whirl and I will say it was a thousand times more enjoyable – jury’s still our for me on the speed of recovery, but I’ll probably try it again.
    Michelle @ Running with Attitude recently posted..Shaking up my trainingMy Profile

  16. says

    I took them a couple of times after my long runs, but I did not notice any difference in my recovery, plus they were uncomfortable, so I stopped. I don’t feel like they are necessary to me. So I don’t take them anymore.
    Kyria recently posted..Movie BuffMy Profile

  17. says

    I would rather do ANYTHING than take an ice bath. I find it more torturous than the last 6.2 miles in a marathon. Recent buzz had me convinced I should try it again this last weekend after a 20 miler, and after I did…I swore I would never do it again. Glad to know I’m not the only one. Call me ‘wimp’, I don’t care. 😉

  18. says

    i always kind of liked them. i haven’t done anything worthy of needing to ice in quite some time of course, but i think i felt slightly ‘refreshed’ after doing them. yes they hurt, and it’s a little miserable at first, but i’m weird and kinda like that pain. haha.
    lindsay recently posted..shake it like a salt shakerMy Profile

  19. says

    I have a well on my property. The water out of it is freezing cold. No ice really needed. I slowly add water to an empty tub and it’s not that bad. I do believe in icing. I didn’t use them until this past year. If my recover time is any indication, they work for me. And a little quiet time after a race is something only hiding in the bathroom can provide at my house! 😉
    shelly recently posted..L.O. & TsMy Profile

  20. says

    I think they feel good at the time you’re emerged in the cold water, but they don”t do anything to speed up recovery or make me feel any better after. I’m a 50/50 if take one or not, and I definitely don’t in the winter. Brrr.
    Jill recently posted..The 50k That Wasn’t RRMy Profile

  21. says

    When I was new to this endurance stuff “Ice baths” were very frequent. Just thought it was something I had to do to speed up recovery.

    Now I only use ice when something is sore or strained and it is in a ziplock bag!

    Like you, I have done a bunch of reading about the benefits (or lack there of) and the research seems to indicate that they really do nothing for recovery.

    Also like you, I have found that recovery is aided by short, slow runs/rides/swims and the volume that is added also increases fitness so I’d rather spend my time doing that then freezing my ass off in a tub!!!
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Ironman Mont-Tremblant Training Week #1My Profile

  22. says

    I used to ice bath but I haven’t in several training seasons. A couple of weeks ago I tried to ice bath after a 60 mile ride…oh so miserable! I prefer a warm Epsom salt bath. I don’t know how well either of them really work for me but I sure enjoy the Epsom salt bath more!
    That Pink Girl recently posted..Treats and SnoozinMy Profile

  23. says

    Why have an ice bath when you can have a beer!!!

    That said if the legs are a bit sore from running to hard, I might rade the Coke truck for a bit of ice to rub the legs down a bit. But I’m with you, if your legs aren’t sore it’s a waste.
    Coach Dion recently posted..107.5 NOT OUTMy Profile

  24. says

    Perhaps it’s just putting more pain on pain, but the legs do tend to feel better after getting out. Just like anything else in the running world-there’s differing of opinion. I’m with you-do what works. Sometimes I think we read too much about this stuff and it gets confusing-I know I do!
    Adrienne recently posted..Adventures in Tri Training: Week 1My Profile

  25. says

    I only take Ice Baths when I get over 15 miles. But I think they help. They aren’t enjoyable, but my post run nap seems to be more relaxing if I do an ice bath. I get restless leg syndrome otherwise.
    Vieve recently posted..Pump ItMy Profile

  26. says

    I never take ice baths. In fact, I’m usually cold after resting from a run (unless it is hot weather) that I need heat heat heat! And I, knock on wood, have been running injury free for months now. I think everyone is different? I do get a regular sports chiro adjustment each month, plus obsessively stretch/foam roll after each run. But, for the most part, haven’t found need or desire for a frigid dunk. :-)
    Christina Williams recently posted..Travel: Always missing GermanyMy Profile

  27. says

    I’m of the same opinion – if they work for you, do it; otherwise, I have found that leg compression sleeves for an hour or so after my run help a lot. Epsom salt baths the night of a race or long run and a very short recovery run the next day are what work well for me.
    David H. recently posted..A solid start to 2012My Profile

  28. says

    Ice baths are used by the elites and when there is conflicting science, it is generall safe to follow the elites. However, all should check out this article by Exercise Physiologist Steve Magness who suggests NOT taking an ice bath after your run as it stunts your adaptation benefits but to only use it as a recovery tool before competition.

    Aaron Paige
    Certified Personal Trainer, Blogger and Avid Runner
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