Congratulations to all those who ran the Colfax Half- or Full-Marathon on Sunday.
This reminds me of the importance of recovery, either from an event, such as a half- or full-marathon, or a tough training run. In a previous post (link to this), I discussed the importance of recovery. One important form of recovery is sleep, which I got plenty of after my 15 mile run on Sunday! In previous posts, I discussed tips (link here), as well as foods and supplements (link here) that can help you improve sleep to aid your recovery.
Research has shown that another important form of recovery is the use of cold or contrast water therapy (alternating between heat and cold). After my second marathon, I used ice baths for the first time. Basically, I ran cold water in the tub, got in and then added ice. This was not enjoyable, but wow, did it work! It only took me a couple of days to physically recover from this marathon, whereas for my first marathon it took about a week.
Although I don’t use ice baths very often, I do use cold water in the shower, after some of my challenging training runs. I recommend not overusing ice baths because they can stifle some of the important fitness adaptations that occur during the recovery process. However, I would recommend them, or contrast water therapy after events, such as half- or full-marathons, or tough training runs in the last few weeks before your event.
Cold Therapy for Recovery
What is it?
- Immersing body parts or whole body in cold or ice water
- This can be in a bath with cold and/or ice water, or even using a cold water shower
- To see benefits the water temperature only has to be as low as 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit
- Evidence from research has shown that following intense exercise with cold water immersion reduces muscle soreness over the next several days
- Research has also shown that taking an ice bath reduces the drop in performance that follows a high-intensity, long-duration effort (like distance running)
When and how long should you expose your body to cold therapy?
- You only need to soak for 10-15 minutes maximum, you may try shorter amounts of time such as 5 minutes to build up tolerance
- You should perform cold/ice water immersion within the first two hours after your event or hard training session
- Continue to perform ice baths for up to two days after your event, or hard training session, if you are still sore
How does it work?
- Cold therapy constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown
- Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a faster return of blood flow, which helps move the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body
- Immersion in water exposes the body to hydrostatic pressure and this pressure helps clear out waste products and reduces inflammation in the muscles
- Cold water temperatures also decrease nerve impulses, reducing pain from soreness or injury
- To make the ice bath experience more tolerable, fill the tub with two to three bags of crushed ice, then add cold water to a height that will cover you nearly to the waist when seated
- Before getting in, put on a warm jacket, a hat, and neoprene booties if you have them, make a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 5-15 minutes fly by
Contrast Water Therapy (CWT)
- An alternative to cold/ice water immersion to help speed recovery
What is it?
- Exposing the body to alternating bouts of hot and cold water
- Benefits for recovery from an event, such as a half- or full-marathon, or particularly tough training session, seem to be similar to those of cold/ice water therapy
When and how long should you expose your body to CWT?
- Most research studies have shown that alternating between water temperatures of 45-68° F for the cold water and 93-106° F for the hot water is best
- Each immersion should last between 3-5 minutes and the total immersion time should be between 20 and 30 minutes
- You should end your CWT with cold and not heat
- Use CWT for the first two hours after an event or particularly tough training session
- Perform CWT for the first two days after an event or training session, if soreness persists
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the use of cold therapy or CWT for recovery.
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Your friend and coach,
- Cold‐water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Chris Bleakley, Suzanne McDonough, Evie Gardner, G. David Baxter, J. Ty Hopkins, Gareth W Davison. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 15 February 2012.
- Cold Water Immersion for Recovery: Acute and Chronic Effects on Exercise Performance. E.E. Montano, R.M. Weatherwax, S.Carillo, L. Dalleck. International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology, 2018.
- Contrast Water Therapy and Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. François Bieuzen , Chris M. Bleakley, Joseph Thomas Costello. Plos One. April 23, 2013.
- Physiological response to water immersion: a method for sport recovery? Wilcock IM1, Cronin JB, Hing WA. Sports Med. 2006;36(9):747-65.