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Ideal Ice Bath Temperature for Athletes

ice bath temperature for athletes

More and more athletes are not only taking the plunge, they swear by it daily, including podcaster, Rich Roll and the widely famous tennis star Ben Shelton, Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps and we all know the famous Surfer Kelly Slater – these guys certainly know what the perfect ice bath temperature for athletes is, they have been using it as a recovery tool for years.

Ice Baths especially help with muscle recovery and soreness, this is one of the primary reasons they feature a lot on the sidelines at training and game days.

You’ve seen them; whatever the coach could find on the day, a bucket, plastic clamshell kids pool or an old rubbish bin and then there was the ice – all chilled out, it was looking at you, waiting on the sideline until you got smashed up.

Then it was time and you didn’t get out until the coach said you could.

Your legs were red and tingly, and the reason you couldn’t feel your leg injury, was because you couldn’t feel anything. But boy, did it work! You healed faster than Usain Bolt heading into his Ice Bath. It worked!

So if you are a sportsperson looking to get into cryotherapy and want to know more about it, read on – if you dare.

What Is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for a definite period. While the method is enjoying its viral moment, it’s more than a trend and has been around for centuries with brain-boosting benefits.

For athletes who often find themselves in high-pressure situations, ice baths act like antidepressants – they dull the noise, clear the clutter, calm you down and ensure you have a restful sleep.

One thing to keep in mind is that this needs to be done in moderation. If your body gets used to cold exposure, the benefits can diminish.

Therefore, cryotherapy is most effective when you just had a particularly rough practice session, have been hard at training, or want your focus to be razor-sharp.

Another way to spice things up is to change the temperature and duration of the session. Just like switching your diet around to speed up your metabolism, the same goes with cold water therapy.

Ideal Temperature for Ice Bathing for Athletes

It’s common knowledge that water starts freezing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit/ 0 degrees Celsius. Ideally, for an ice bath, the temperature should be around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit/ 10-15 degrees Celsius.

Generally, the ideal ice bath temperature for athletes differs from person to person. Kelly Slater has been known to stay in for 14 mins in near-freezing temperatures while Michael Phelps only stays in for 3-4 mins at a similar temperature.

Finding your sweet spot for you and what works best is the most appropriate approach for long-term gains.

Research1 suggests that the cooler the temperature, the better the results. You can shop for a floating thermometer and check the water before you plunge. It’s a good idea to monitor the results each week to see how things are improving and the results you are seeing.

Once the water starts to get into the single digits, you may want to start to focus on your breathing. This is when reviewing Wim Hoff Breathing classes that are held in various parts of the world, and online.

Wim Hof Breathing is a technique used by thousands of individuals around the world, named after a Dutch extreme athlete, Wim Hof.

This typically involves controlled hyperventilation followed by periods and breath retention. Mastering these techniques helps to:

  • Re-Oxygenate the Blood.
  • Stress Reduction
  • Improve your Immunity
  • Elevate Mood and Improve Resilience

Wim Hof works with thousands of individuals around the world at retreats and training camps, he has been a part of many studies, some of which test the limits of the human body.

Many of these studies have provided new evidence of what is possible when the right breathing techniques2 are applied in situations when the body is under immense, unnatural stressful situations.

Preparing Ice Baths at Home

We understand that not everybody can access a sports training centre offering cryotherapy, or commercial ice baths.

In these situations, it is best to improvise and not let it deter you from continuing the journey and getting the benefits that cold water therapy provides.

Also, it’s super easy to start – fill your bathtub with water, also some ice if you want to chill it down even more. You can also use a (clean) large rubbish bin or a wine barrel.

The ratio of ice to water should be 3:1, and it should be enough to cover your body. If you are a beginner, you don’t have to submerge yourself fully, you can start slow and progress as you get used to the experience and initial shock from the cold – refer to the breathing technique if you need to.

Which body part you would like to submerge also depends on your aim. If you are a runner, your feet and legs should be underwater. Your back and hips can also benefit from the ice bath.

Another popular question that comes up is how long should you stay in an ice bath?

Research shows that no more than twenty minutes. However, if you are a complete beginner, you will only be able to stay for a few minutes, tops.

It is vital that you listen to your body’s signs and do not try to push the limits, especially when it does more harm than good.

Remember, ‘plunge in pairs’. Although it’s not essential, but if you are going to push your body past what’s considered ‘normal’, then it’s wise to have someone monitor your progress.

Plus, having a timekeeper and scribe to note down how you feel could be useful, and it’s also nice to have a towel past to you when you get out.

Tips for Successfully Doing the Cold Plunge

Cryotherapy is a little more than just exposing yourself to extreme temperatures and letting nature take over. When you are counting down the minutes to get out, one thing to always focus on mindful breathing.

When your body encounters such extreme temperatures, it causes a shock, which can often cause people to hyperventilate and draw short, fast breaths.

You want to do the opposite – take deep breaths so that more oxygen gets taken in and circulates. As a good starting point – breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 2, and then breathe out. Repeat the process till it becomes second nature.

If your muscles are sore and have micro tears from constant sports training, the cold helps your body to pump blood faster and that accelerates the repair process.

Seasoned professionals can be seen putting their hands behind their knees or under their armpits. Here the skin is thinnest and thus is more sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

Much Needed Aftercare

When you are done, don’t rush to get away from the cold and into your fluffy towels and hot showers.

Evidence suggests brown adipose tissue continues to burn fat3 long after you’ve finished your plunging so there are benefits in slowing down a little.

Just exercise patience for a few minutes more, dry off and enjoy the benefits.

Another fun thing to do is measure how long you can go for each night before you’re tempted to jump in a hot shower or settle in with a hot drink.

On the first night, you might get from the ice bath to the spa pool in record time…but it’s good to measure the tolerance levels as you go on.

Athletes can benefit immensely from incorporating cryotherapy into their routine. It is beneficial to manage stress, improve focus and muscle recovery, and learn how to control breathing, which can go a long way while playing sports for long hours.

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  • Neil Maidment D.O (Hons)

    Editor: Graduating from the prestigious European School of Osteopathy with a B.Sc (Hons) Degree and Diploma in Osteopathy in 2007. Neil has a passion for helping others improve their sporting performance, decrease their pain and recover faster. Neil practices Osteopathy out of Southern France, is an avid podcaster on Health and publicly speaks Internationally on health and wellness.

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  • Dale Folland

    Dale is a seasoned Nutritionist with over two decades of experience in the health and wellness industry. His expertise has been sought after by elite groups such as NZ SAS Soldiers and NZ Fire Service, where he has contributed to optimising their performance and well-being. Dale is also a renowned speaker and educator and his work has been recognised in publications like the Daily Mail and various US media outlets.

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