To freeze in an ice bath, or not to freeze in an ice bath?

Well, the ice bath was definitely a success in terms of not losing feeling completely everywhere. I hopped into the frigid tub after my first long run of the weekend (16 miler) for about ten minutes. Drinking a cup of hot coffee may have helped keep the feeling in my hands, but I still wouldn’t call it an enjoyable experience. I didn’t feel super sore that day, or the next, but I wasn’t so sure that I would have felt much different had I not plunged into a frigid bath and just stuck with my foam rolling technique. So I got to some researching….

Cold water immersion, or CWI, is used by elite and recreational runners everywhere. I see it all over Instagram, which is why I decided to go ahead and give it a try. However, I wanted to know a little more of the science behind why it’s supposed to aid in recovery. CWI has been theorized to increase subsequent performances through decreasing inflammation, reducing production of harmful byproducts, and reducing pain associated with overly strenuous workout or long runs. A study conducted in 2014 by White et al, showed no differences in inflammatory markers following 10 minutes of CWI post high intensity sprint exercise. In 2017, Peake et al were the first to show no significant differences in inflammatory markers after CWI post resistance exercise. Even though CWI may not be proven beneficial yet in terms of inflammation, it may still have a place in decreasing muscle soreness and it placebo effect, as noted by Allan and Mawhinney. Ultimately, I think the jury is still out on whether CWI truly benefits the athlete or not in terms of recovery and subsequent performances. There may be a placebo effect, which may benefit some, but I don’t think it has me convinced just yet. Not enough to freeze my buns off electively for ten minutes anyway.

But if there are so many contradicting opinions on CWI, what is the thinking behind foam rolling or other self myofascial relief (SMR) techniques (i.e. car buffers). And while I think more research needs to be done in this area as well, Schroder et al have proven that SMR increases range of motion and decreases muscle soreness, especially when done in conjunction with static stretching post exercise. However, it does increase muscle function following use of treatment.

That being said, ultimately, I think it’s whatever works for you. If you like freezing your buns off in the tub, do it. If massaging your legs with a car buffer makes them feel better, go for it. So long as your recovering in some way, I think that’s the message to take away from all this. Personally, I think I’ll stick to my foam roller because I don’t think one method has been proven to benefit the athlete more than the other, but please share if I am wrong!

Next week I will focus on nutrition before, during, and after a long run. I have a 12 and an 18 miler this weekend and it’s important to practice fueling the way you would before, during and after a race. Nothing is worse than having to stop 25 times during a race because of unplanned GI distress! I find that lots of gels upset my stomach, and with the distance being so far in a 60k, I’m going to stick to real food. So that’s what I’ll be eating on my 18 miler this weekend! Follow along next week to see how that goes!

-S

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