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I am a sprinter around the grand old age of 21.

At our track, there is a lot of debate of whether cold bath (or ice bath if you're brave enough) aids recovery of the muscle. What are your opinions?

Are there any other post-training techniques that you would recommend?

Dont think this has to be sport-specific, as it will easily go across the board for most sports.

Stu

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The Wikipedia article about Running states:

A cold bath is a popular treatment of subacute injuries or inflammation, muscular strains, and overall muscular soreness, but its efficacy is controversial.[14] Some claim that for runners in particular, ice baths offer two distinct improvements over traditional techniques.

First, immersion allows controlled, even constriction around all muscles, effectively closing microscopic damage that cannot be felt and numbing the pain that can. One may step into the tub to relieve sore calves, quads, hams, and connective tissues from hips to toes will gain the same benefits, making hydrotherapy an attractive preventive regimen.

The second advantage involves a physiological reaction provoked by the large amount of muscle submerged. Assuming one has overcome the mind's initial flight response in those first torturous minutes, the body fights back by invoking a "blood rush". This rapid transmission circulation flushes the damage-inflicting waste from the system, while the cold water on the outside preserves contraction.

Reference: [14] is a decent About.com review

However, a study by Sellwood et al "Ice-water immersion and delayed-onset muscle soreness: a randomised controlled trial" found no significant changes in pain parameters, tenderness, isometric strength, swelling, hop-for-distance or serum creatine kinase (CK) over time.

But Vaile et al found in their study "Effect of hydrotherapy on recovery from fatigue" that: Sprint (0.1 - 2.2 %) and a total of 9-min sustained effort (time trial - TT) (0.0 - 1.7 %) performance were enhanced across the five-day trial following cold water immersion (CWI) and contrast water therapy (CWT), when compared to hot water immersion (HWI) and passive recovery (PAS).

I would therefore hypothesize that the effect of a cold water bath may depend on the type of workout and the intensity thereof. Given that you're a sprinter, perhaps it can be beneficial when you've done a high intensity workout where you are more likely to have microscopic damage than during an endurance training. But then again, that's just my hypothesis.

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Josh Cox, American record holder for the 50K, uses ice baths for recovery. run.isport.com/running-videos/play/… –  Andrew Ferk Mar 12 '11 at 14:39
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While true @Andrew, just because it works for him doesn't mean it works for everyone :-) But if it has a positive influence on his self-esteem or just makes him feel great, that might be more important than the actual physiological effects –  Ivo Flipse Mar 12 '11 at 14:44

For what it's worth, it helped me a lot when I was running. Bear in mind, though, that I'm talking long distances and 2-3 hour runs, so pretty much the opposite of sprinting.

I used to get shin splints on the inside of my lower leg and was in almost permanent pain unless I kept up with my cold baths. Also useful was to rub ice cubes on the area which was inflamed. So I think ice baths are great for inflamation and injuries, maybe not AS useful for general recovery.

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For me, I find it good if I have done a really tough session, and if I dont I do feel I am more stiff and sore the next day. However, for a minor or easy session I dont think it is necessary, nor should it be a daily thing. I think the post-session warm-down and stretching is more important.

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