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Runners Believe in Ice Baths Despite Research Findings

In the world of sports, bodies take a beating. In response there are lots of methods to ward off the soreness that follows. One of the most popular treatments to prevent muscle soreness is an ice bath. As a runner, this is a very common suggestion given to deal with the wicked pain that follows a marathon. Recently, however, the effectiveness of ice baths was questioned.

Chris Bleakley headed a study regarding ice baths and their effectiveness. Bleakley is an author and researcher at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Essentially, the research concluded that cyrotherapy has very little quality research behind it to back its validity and effectiveness.

In the study, people were asked to get into a cold water bath that was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit after they exercised. The participants stayed in the bath from anywhere between five and 24 minutes. Bleakley found that the participants experienced less soreness over the next four days, but he admitted, “it’s purely a subjective feeling of less soreness.”

Bleakley also pointed out that other treatments may be just as effective, referring to massage, stretching, and regular water immersion.

Perhaps ice baths are a chilly waste of time. The study points to this being a possibility. However, when it comes to a marathon and an endurance runner, the belief in ice bath effectiveness seems to be the standard.

Dean Karnazes is known as “The Marathon Man.” This ultra runner is best known for his extreme endurance feats. In 2006 he ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days. In 2011, he completed a run across in the United States, nearly 3,000 miles to support Action for Healthy Kids. Karnazes has to recover quickly in order to take on these challenges. He is a faithful ice bath advocate.

“I’m a firm believer in ice baths. So following any race in high temperatures, fill your tub with water and ice. Then, immerse your lower torso in the frozen slurry. How long do you soak for?  I always tell people, ‘stay in until your voice goes up a few octaves.’”

There’s an argument that ice baths may only be effective for the elite athlete. However, many non-pro athletes are as just as pro-ice bath.

Shane McCormick is an amateur marathoner from Valley Center, KS. “It took me a while, but this past year I made ice baths a normal part of my marathon training schedule. Ten minutes in the ice bath right after my long runs really helped reduce inflammation and soreness and allowed me to do longer recovery runs the next day.”

Brad Blonigen is from Wichita, KS. He is also an amateur marathoner who uses ice baths on a case by case basis as he finds them helpful.

“I do notice a reduction in soreness… I still take them if a run beats me up and I have a feeling that I am going to be sore.”

Research is great and keeps us from wasting our time. However, in the case of ice baths, it seems possible that the old idiom applies, “the proof is in the pudding.”

March 16th, 2012

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