Several years ago, I applied to be a participant in the weekly television show “Survivor.” Disappointingly, I was rejected.
Two requirements were submitted to CBS — a daunting 15-page questionnaire teaming with up-close-and-personal inquiries regarding life’s most embarrassing or revealing moments. And secondly, a one-minute video designed to showcase bold and daring clips, with the intent of proving myself worthy to be a player on the show.
I selected five scenarios for my video. One of the clips took place in Chicago, in February, in Lake Michigan. Crawling out onto 10-foot-thick frozen waves, nearly 75 yards off shore, was daunting. Tying a rope around my chest and jumping off the ice into infuriated 40 degree water was dull-witted. (I deeply apologize, Mom).
Atrophy and loss of breath are shocking reminders of that historical moment in my life, but actually, freezing water can be an important part of your life, especially when applied properly while recovering from hard workouts or injury.
Ice baths or cold baths are tremendous for people of all ages, but especially high school/collegiate athletes and older adults who work out or compete at strenuous levels. But why subject yourself to ice baths? Ice/cold bath recovery, when practiced appropriately and regularly, will speed up the recovery process as well as improve overall athletic performance. Yes, it is chilling and uncomfortable at first, after all everyone hates cold showers, but an ice/cold bath right after an intense exercise session can actually do wonders for your body.
After an intense practice, game or race our muscles experience micro-trauma. These are small tears in the muscle fibers that are perfectly normal, but cause soreness and inflammation. Cold water will stimulate muscle cells to start repairing muscle tears, constrict blood vessels, reduce swelling and flush waste products like lactic acid (that heavy exhausting feeling in your arms and legs.) Then, with re-warming, increased blood flow speeds circulation, and in turn, improves the healing process.
The discomfort associated with sitting in cold water scares off many people. I admit that after hard exercise I would rather reward myself with a hot shower, but sometimes I need discipline to take care of injury-prevention details. Here are a few tips to make the ice/cold bath a little more tolerable.
• Fill your bathtub with water at tap temperature (cold bath) or tap water and ice at approximately 55 degrees (ice bath). Supply enough water to submerge the areas of soreness. If it is just your legs that hurt, fill enough to cover hips on down.
• Prepare yourself mentally to sit in the tub. Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or tea and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 minutes pass by quickly.
• Enjoy a hot shower afterwards, followed by stretching and a good meal. You may actually become semi-comfortable after a few minutes, but the real benefits come a bit later with the feeling of rejuvenation and recovery. Research indicates that ice/cold baths help repair sore and fatigued muscles allowing athletes to continue training at high levels. Please remember that passive recovery is not an effective way to rid soreness.
In other words, sedentary living slows the healing process while stretching, light movement and icing permit blood flow to hurry along the healing process. Many athletes I know who take cold baths on a semi-regular basis actually perform at higher levels because of quicker healing and improved blood flow. Practice this technique slowly and steadily for a few months and determine how water therapy can help improve your health.
• Dana Neer is a local coach and fitness enthusiast who contributes a monthly column. He may be reached by email at Neerd@culver.org.