“It only feels like death for the first few minutes…” ~ Candice Houston IFBB Pro
What do runners, NFL players, MMA fighters, and Scandinavians have in common?
An affinity for the ice bath!
The first time I heard ‘ice baths’ used in a sentence with ‘you should try one’, I laughed and said, “Oh hell no!” Despite my Scandinavian and ice skating roots, there is little I dislike more than being cold.
Fast forward to 2013: my trainer rants & raves about them in her prep for the Nordic Pro. I begin to experience unprecedented soreness throughout my lower legs. I become curious, but I realize curiosity also killed the cat…
If I can barely tolerate an unheated swimming pool (in Las Vegas in July…), how on earth could I submerge myself into a bath of ice cubes? So, I ask my trainer and she replies, with a devilish grin, “Mama, it only feels like death for the first few minutes.”
As a minimalist athlete, I often feel like I have to take the high road when it comes to my training and commitment to being as close to the ground as possible. Runners who transition from traditional footwear to barefoot or Vibrams (minimalist footwear) are encouraged to take an entire season off just to adjust to the refinement of their gait (b’bye heel strike) and the more intense recruitment of muscles in the foot and lower leg in particular.
The difference is using less “joint” (heel-strike) and more “muscle” (mid-strike). Minimalist training offers superior performance and injury prevention in the long run, but a potentially painful transition in the short run. When I start to incorporate sprinting and high-incline treadmill into my cardio programs, I experience this as soreness in my soleus and tibialis anterior.
If I weigh the costs & benefits, the benefits always win. The conditioning of my feet and legs. No history of injury in my ankles, knees, or hips. All of my so-called injuries have been muscular as my body adapts to new workouts and intensity. But, OUCH, these muscles are literally felt with every step…
So, I decide it is time to “take the plunge” and embrace the willPower Word of the Week (WoW) Change!
“Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” – Frank Herbert, author
Step 1: Google ‘ice bath’
- Fantastic read –Do’s and Don’ts for Ice Bathing
- My LOL Google moment: “Do not take an ice bath unaccompanied in case…”
(In case of what? Death?!)
- Plenty of articles purporting ice baths are not all they’re hyped up to be. Reminds me of ‘fasted cardio’. Often when things are “hard”, we find reassuring research to tell us not to bother. But I figure if the most hard-core athletes are dipping themselves into tubs full of ice, they are probably not doing it to look (or feel) “cool”. Similar to fasted cardio, I decide to let my experience and results dictate my decision. (Ice bath ON…)
Step 2: Buy 2-4 bags of ice
For my first foray into ice bathing, I decided to limit the ice to my lower half so I “just” used two bags of ice. (I would argue there is no “just” when it comes to putting ice in your bath, but in the spirit of full disclosure and appropriate quantities.)
Step 3: Prep room
This isn’t going to be a bath of relaxation, but that’s not going to stop me from trying – candles, fluffy towels, and a piping mug of my favorite licorice herbal tea. My willPower sweats, fuzzy socks, and hoodie set out and waiting for me on the other side of this Arctic tub!
Step 4: Fill tub halfway with cold water and pour in bags of ice
Step 5: Cue the music
Similar to the Plank Challenge, I use music to track the time and encourage me to stay longer. I put on my new cardio playlist, knowing each track is about 6 mins and thinking half the playlist (i.e. 30 mins) would be an amazing achievement.
Step 6: Get in
(gulp, scream, let it out)
Dipping my feet and ankles in, I shriek, “You have got to be kidding me! There is no way!” Remembering my trainer’s words of wisdom and my commitment to recovery and change, I stay the course and continue easing my way down.
Step 7: Stay
(exhale, still alive)
I didn’t think I was going to make it through those first few minutes of “death”, but with hands firmly placed on either side of the tub, I closed my eyes, focused on the song, and persisted…dreaming of sore-free legs.
The next track came on and, lo and behold, better. Yes, still very cold, but no need to tense so much. Legs nearly numb, but goosebumps have disappeared. Sipping hot tea helps. Staying still helps. Each track feels a little easier.
Happy Feet! I made it to my goal of 30 mins!
Step 8: Exit gracefully
Funny to towel off your legs when they are basically numb. Put on your sweats and socks with ease. Walk slowly. Allow your body to acclimate.
Step 9: Warm up
Every “body” is different. Mine is especially sensitive to the cold. After an hour or so, I found my legs were still frozen cold and my nose and hands were starting to feel chilly. That was my cue to take a hot shower.
In the mirror, I could already see the post-workout inflammation in my body had gone down. (Love instant gratification!) My legs had no pain, but also little sensation. I was eager to see if the painlessness would continue once body heat was restored…
Step 10: Massage
- Massage brings the recovery full circle and increases circulation.
- For minimalist barefoot training, I focus on Sole Training™.
- Favorite product:Johnson’s Baby Creamy Oil Cocoa & Shea Butter (in the baby aisle!)
- Morning cardio-goers, Sole Training will help warm and awaken your feet and lower leg muscles that have tightened up while sleeping.
Bottom line: My legs truly felt like new. In the morning, I sprinted for the first time in a week with zero pain. Today, absent any post-workout soreness, I did my steepest incline cardio. Nationals full steam ahead!
In willPower & grace®, we say “make the workout work for you”. This week, I’d like to add “and make your recovery work for you, too”. The ice bath represents an extreme way to recover, but it fits my current stage of training with higher levels of intensity and activity. I have classes to teach every day and I am committed to being 100% on my journey to Nationals.
At 9 weeks out, change is happening quickly in my body. I need to embrace and foster this continuous change in order to be successful.
What can you change this week to promote your goals? Don’t be surprised if it’s in the less obvious places like self-care…
Extra reading from “Anatomy of Runners”:
Ice Baths are painful when you first get in them and cold to sit in, but wonderful for all the aches and pains your legs accumulate through running and working out. After you get out and towel off, you will feel like you just got the best of professional massages.
Here’s the reasoning behind the insanity:
“Swelling is very important at both the cellular and macroscopic levels. When faced with damage, the cells signal a host of chemicals that act as messengers…and an entire cascade of events is set in motion to repair the damaged tissue. At the macroscopic level, swelling is the body’s natural attempt to ‘splint’ the body part…. Swelling increases our pain sensitivity around the area…[so] you will strive to lessen the load on the affected tissue.
Traditional medicine…tries to silence [this]. Taking non-steroid anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen, suppresses the messenger chemicals from ‘calling in the troops.’ Further, these…medications block the pain receptors, meaning you ignore the fact that the area is dysfunctional and continue to load it.
Newer research has shown that while you may sustain a bit of extra training time taking NSAIDs, the healing will take longer and will not be as complete as if you left the cap on the pill bottle
What about ice? …Ice acts differently and has no effect on the messenger activation process. Icing the area serves to minimize the swelling that is there. Ice speeds the removal of extracellular fluid around the injured area and thus helps clear the waste products of the repair process away from the injury site.”