Kelly Starrett, the man behind the MobilityWOD series that we are so fond of, also is the owner of San Francisco CrossFit. Previously, his nuggets of mobility and recovery wisdom were only featured as posts on their gym’s blog. In one of my older posts, I linked to his argument against the regular use of ibuprofen by athletes, particularly CrossFitters.
So what do you do for relief, particularly after being mauled by Bear or run over by the Prowler? Whole9 ran an article on the benefits of ice baths, for those brave enough to endure them:
But the damage done during a hard training session also produces muscle soreness and inflammation, which can interfere with subsequent training. Ice baths temporarily constrict blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. And immersion allows controlled, even constriction around all muscles, effectively blunting microscopic damage that you may not even feel. (You may hit the tub to relieve sore quads, but your calves, hamstrings, and hip/knee/ankle connective tissues will all gain the same benefits.)
The second advantage involves a physiological reaction provoked by the large amount of muscle submerged. After the initial shock of the ice-cold water, the body responds with vasodilation – a rapid circulation which flushes the damage-inflicting waste from your system. Once out of the bath, the area warms up again, and new blood rushes in to help the healing process.
Now K-Star’s article about ibuprofen also talked up ice baths and I’ve toyed with them since reading it. However, I found that I was doing it just a little wrong. You see, I used a single 10 lb. bag of ice and nothing but cold tap water. It was quite cold and provided some benefit, but not quite as intended.
Ready to get started? Assuming you’ve got a standard bathtub, here’s our prescription. Grab three to five bags of ice – that’s 30 – 50 lbs. in total
The other thing I screwed up was running for the relief of a warm shower afterward:
Do whatever you can to warm up – move around, don’t sit still – but resist the temptation to jump into a hot shower right away. Let your body warm up naturally, and allow that swift rush of blood to continue the recovery process.
They do give some tips that I did figure out through some trial and error — wearing swim trunks for your sensitive bits and a beanie to keep your noggin warm will make the experience slightly more tolerable. I also threw on the bathroom heater at full blast just to make the ambient air more pleasant once I got out.
The best benefit of this is when you can do it within an hour or so of training (the sooner the better). If you can’t get prepped in that time (or are just plain scared!) there’s still another option — the contrast shower. This is where you switch from water as hot as you can stand for 1-3 minutes and then to as cold as you can stand for 30-60 seconds (keep at about a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio).. the important thing is to END on the cold cycle. Yes, that part of it may suck — but it’s for your own good. I can say that I followed my own advice after being beat down by back squats followed by the Prowler Challenge on Saturday and my legs felt much better after the contrast shower.
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