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Before You Soak In That Ice Bath…

Anything a runner can do to speed repair is always a good thing, right?

Anything a runner can do to speed repair is always a good thing, right?

Reputed to ease inflammation, reduce soreness and the feeling of “dead” legs after a hard workout or long run, ice baths remain the go-to way to stave off extended soreness and inflammation. If rapid recovery is the body’s way of proving it’s adapting well to training, then anything a runner can do to speed repair, such as sit in an ice bath, is always a good thing, right?

Maybe not. A 2007 study showed that a 50-degree F soak after a hard 90-minute run showed that runners felt less sore in the days after, but the ice baths didn’t lower the runners’ levels of creatine kinase, a marker of exercise-induced muscle damage. Other studies show additional mixed results.

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Steve Magness, cross country and track coach at the University of Houston and Science of Running blogger, explained: “Ice creates a short-term change in muscle tension, which could be a good thing if you need it. The downside is that the ice bath decreases damage or inflammatory activity and markers—which might seem like a good thing, but, over time, if you consistently decrease damage, you’re consistently decreasing the signal for adaptation. This means less of a training effect over time.”

Save the frigid soaks for when you’re really beat up or run down, and not just as a habitual post-workout or long run recovery step. Magness also recommended soaking if you need to the night after a hard workout, not directly after completion.