Why do cold baths help after a long run?

Why do cold baths help after a long run?

Someone suggested this on the forums and it really does seem to have made a difference to how I feel after my long run (although maybe my legs are getting stronger as well).

To those of you who havent had the pleasure of a cold bath after a run - Warning extream swearing may be heard upon inital immersion!


  • The idea is, I am realibly informed by a running doctor, that your body reacts to cold water by removing blood from the muscles in your legs. This may not sound good (!) but its the next bit that's important - when you warm up again, blood comes back in and this time its full of all sorts of lovely things that your muscles need to recover. What they are, I don't know, but that's the idea.

    So it's not the cold in itself that does the trick, its the cold followed by warming up.

  • So would you sit in a cold bath for 15 mins, then empty some of it and fill with hot water?
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    ...and also it reduces the inflammation in the tissues, helping the micro-tears in the muscles to repair.

    Double whammy!

    I've only once managed the cold bath, but running the shower (on cold) over your legs works quite well too, and the rest of you stays a bit warmer.
  • Thanks for the replies. The inital shock of getting in is feirce but once your in it was kind of comfortable as your legs go numb!

    As I said it made a big difference to my recovery time so would recommend.
  • My observations (on having a recent cold bath for 5mins):

    10-60 seconds = you experience initial surprise and acceptance/disbelief at having/choosing to do this whilst wearing a fleecy top. Concentrate on nice warm things, not the cold on your bum!

    60-120 secs = you watch feet go blue and legs go red (nether regions have accepted their fate), the cold is easier to accept now.

    120-180 secs = you start to flag a bit, holding breath and praying for 4th minute. Feet even bluer. Good idea to gently pour water over the thighs, taking care not to spill any on exposed nether regions for fear of shouting loudly.

    180-240 secs = legs are nearly all blue, so dream of getting out and stare avidly at the clck, willing it to move faster.

    240-300 secs = let out the water until about a fraction deep, stand up and fill bath with warm water to experience the full benefit! Then try to rationalise what you have just done...
  • I try and finish my long runs near my local gym so I can have a shower then go in the plunge pool behind the sauna.Thats good cause you only have to get your legs wet!! then warm up in the sauna!works great.
  • Ice water helps to remove lactic acid from the muscles, leaving you less sore the following day.
    We've used this treatment for years, and very rarely have sore legs.
  • I read that it wasn't lactic acid that causes DOMS though - I thought it was just the fact that the blood comes back after the coldness with more/fresh nutrients and stuff.
  • Do you have to be really careful about heating up again? I'd just want to get into the shower and stand under really hot water, but would that undo the good work of the cold water?
  • Not sure about the science (it always seems to be disputed) but personally, I've found that a cold blast of the shower or a cold bath after training - in the gym, on the bike or running - improves recovery the day after.

    Twinkle, the way I do it is after warmdown and stretching, have a hot massagey shower, then finish with a couple of minutes of icy-cold, then dry off and put some trackies on. Works a treat.
  • have just started trying this rather drastic way of recovery, did 17 miles yesterday, and I am in hardly any discomfort today.
    keep a jumper on
    refuel and rehydrate while you are in the bath ( I enjoyed a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea yesterday!)
    have a copy of runners world to read, these take your mind off the cold!
    thats ok though til the damn thing falls in the bath!
  • Hi! It might be interesting to read up a little bit more on Ice Baths, and the science behind them. Do they actually work? Well, from a sports medicine standpoint there isn't much evidence to say they promote an anti-inflammatory response or reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), and more research is definitely required in the effects of Ice Bathing after HIIT sessions. There are better recovery methods out there, that have more scientific backing. I like to diversify my recovery methods across the week.

    So, then why do they make us feel good then, doesn't every elite runner ice bath?
    The placebo effect may arise from the fact that the CWI (cold water immersion) causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arterial vessels in the peripheries) and the feeling of the warm blood rushing in from the core when one gets out of the bath can give an invigorating feeling and make you feel good. This gives the feeling of improved perceived recovery. It also may decrease the effects of heat and humidity, if the athlete is playing or training in those types of environmental conditions, by lowering the core temperature a degree or so.

    Click my link to learn more:
  • I do a half icey cold bath after a hard run, seems to really help with recovery!

    What I mean Is I fill the water about 8 to 10" deep and sit in it for 5 mins with my legs fully submerged. I leave my upper body out of it though, as i think it's not good to get your chest covered in icy cold water and your just asking for a cold/chest infection. Once five minutes is up I take out the plug out, stand up and get a cool/tepid shower for a few minutes to clean rest of my body. Might not work for everyone but works for me!
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