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Throwback Thursday: How to Take an Ice Bath

Note how high the water is (and how kinda cute I look, despite having just puked post-26.2)

A little retro chill from 2011 for this hot August morning...

In the 18 or so months since Run Like a Mother was published, Dimity and I have become known for a few things, including purposely peeing in capris (SBS), going commando (both of us), wearing running skirts (DMD + SBS) and taking ice baths (SBS again). I was reminded of this over the weekend when several fans posted on our Facebook wall that they’d done an icy plunge after a long run. Heather, who took an ice bath after a 12-mile run, wrote, “it was not as terrible” as she thought it would be.

So this week I decided I’d give the 411 on how—and when—to take an ice bath. You should try to chill out after longer or more demanding runs, like ones that last two hours or more or involve a bundle of intervals or hills. Since this isn’t a perfect world (like I had to tell you that?), don’t sweat that you can’t go cold after every extra-hard workout. But when you can fit in an ice bath, here’s how:

Take a hot drink, like tea, chai, or cocoa, into the bathroom with you. Not only is hot chocolate the warm version of our favorite post-run recovery drink, chocolate milk, but holding onto the mug of steaming liquid a tasty way to keep my mitts warm.

Strip naked from the waist down, but bundle up on top. I favor a wool hoodie layered under a fleece jacket, while Dim tells me she doesn’t soak without adding a hat to her ensemble.

Okay, so we needed to be further submerged, but can't beat the natural distractions from the snow-melt water.

Run the cold water, then dump in roughly the equivalent of two bags of ice. (Works especially nicely when staying at a hotel for an out-of-town race. Helllllllo, ice machine!) Some of my wimpier friends, ahem, like to sit in empty tub, then start filling it with water, but I prefer to take the plunge once tub is about half-full. Yes, it huts the lady-bits, but the first few moments are the worst, I promise.

Be covered up to your hips. The cold therapy doesn’t do your quads any good if they aren’t covered. When my toes can’t take the torture any longer, I let them climb out of the water, but otherwise I keep my entire leg, ankle, glutes, and lower core submerged.

Stay in for 10 to 20 minutes. It helps time pass to have entertainment. Distractions of choice: I read the New York Times online while holding my iPhone in a death grip, while Corrina told us on Facebook about being entertained by her kids dropping toys into the bath. “It helped me laugh instead of shiver,” she wrote.

Get out and take a hot shower—your beet-red legs will thank you as toxins get flushed out and small micro-tears speed to healing.

Now you tell us: How do you like your ice baths?

68 responses to “Throwback Thursday: How to Take an Ice Bath

  1. Sometimes I “cheat”. I have a tall thin plastic garbage can that I use only for soaks. I stop and grab two bags of ice at a quick type mart, fill the can ( uses less water than tub) and am able to sit on stairs while I soak. The lady bits don’t even get wet. I use the water on my planters and trees. Makes me feel better being a little greener. I also don’t shower after, just thaw by waking around to flush out.

  2. I hate to be hot, so ice baths are up my alley! I grab a bag of ice after my long runs & drive home with it under my bum-knee. Then I hop into the tub & watch an episode of Family Guy (about 20 minutes). Oh, and there’s lots of swearing when I first get in the icy cold water. More swearing when my husband adds ice. No worries, I do love the cool down. 🙂

  3. I have been doing this to recover from my 2 foot surgeries this spring. My 70 pound Lab puppy is a great distraction bc she loves to jump in and out of the tub. What could go wrong?!

  4. I ask my daughter to bring toys to the bathroom and play while I take my ice bath….whatever distraction works, right? ; )

  5. I’ve read that taking a hot shower afterwards undoes most of the effects of taking an ice bath.. You want the legs to have to warm up by pumping fresh blood around the legs, which helps them heal more quickly. If I have to take a shower afterwards, it’s a short lukewarm one which i try and keep my legs out of. Otherwise I wait for a couple of hours.

  6. So, I’m doing the Goofy Challenge in January, which is a half on Sat and full on Sunday. I’ve never done an ice bath, but I have two long runs left to give them a try. What about race weekend? After the half on Saturday? After the full in Sunday? Both?

  7. Oh, SBS, just reading this made me cold! When headed for an ice bath, I don’t strip any of my clothes off. I just jump in (beanie on is helpful!) after grabbing a warm towel to wrap around my shoulders. Then, my sweet daughter graciously holds my hand while I moan like I’m in labor and I lower myself into the water. Gearing up to start training for ‘thon #2 and I’m not so sure I’m going to love taking the plunge after running in the winter temps. Thankfully, we don’t get too cold here! And haven’t I heard that I don’t need to add ice in the winter??

  8. I started to look forward to my ice baths while training through the winter. Made me feel totally bad-ass! I kept my running tights on though. Not sure if it helps any, I just found that it helped with the ice not touching my skin.

  9. A friend told me to wear a wool cap when taking the plunge. It actually helps! I do have to admit that I climb in the freeze fully dressed…skirt and all. Mentally, I need a layer between me and the water…and it is more appropriate for those days when my teenagers decide to come in and laugh at mom turning into a popsicle (aren’t they fun?).

  10. After reading about ice baths in the book and on the FB page, I have taken two (and see many more in my future). The latest one I took was after my 12 miles a couple weeks ago. My husband sat on the toilet while I clutched my iPod Touch trying to play Angry Birds. He shook his head and said, “You runners are crazy”, to which I replied, “But boy my thighs will feel great when I’m done in here”. Sure, it’s really cold at first, but you do acclimate. That’s not to say that I’m not (trying to) moving really fast when it’s time to get out of the tub. And the water doesn’t really ever warm up much in my cast iron tub. Brrrrrrr.

  11. I take an ice bath after any run 16 miles or longer. My daughters enjoy putting the ice cubes in the water and making it colder. I set a timer and don’t let myself out until the last second has clicked away.

  12. What a great tip about putting the iPhone in a ziplock bag during your bath!! The one thing I tend to do is fill the bathtub halfway before I leave to run so when I get back all I have to do is get in and add ice!

  13. OK, so clearly I need to learn to use a shirt (but always worry it will drop in and be colder!). I do it in my kids tub since I keep mine steamy and hot and waiting to go for the run down the hall. A bag of ice (now will do two), and I am ready to hop in and cringe then give in to the cold. I read, drink a hot beverage, and make my hubby talk to me (not sure the shriveled, post long run, freezing me is all that appealing).

  14. I need to stick my head in an ice bath after the ego swell of being mentioned on your site!! So glad other people dig the ice bath…the first plunge was the hardest! Looking forward to next Saturday’s plunge after my first half marathon…

  15. I take a cold bath ANYTIME I feel my muscles may be sore from a run, usually 8+ miles or hills. I am from the “wimpier” group 🙂 and sit in the tub from the time it starts filling. I didn’t have any ice the first time I decided to take an”ice” bath so I just set the temp as low as it would go and sat in that for 10-20 min, it worked so well for me without the ice that I have never taken the plunge and added it. Even then I still need the sweater and tea 🙂

  16. For those of you afraid to take your electronics into the bath, I put my Nook or iPhone in a zip loc bag before getting in the tub. The touch screen still works and I don’t sit there with it in a death grip the entire time.

  17. I run cold water, get in, get used to the cold water, and then add the ice gradually. I never last very long. One of my friends says beer coozies on the toes help.

  18. While I don’t actually buy ice to put in my tub, my version of an ice bath takes place in these locations, depending on whether I’m in ID or CA at the time: the 53 degree Pacific Ocean; the 59 degree irrigation canal near my house; the horse trough in my pasture. Feels so good (or is that hurts so good).

  19. Depending on where your out of town race is you can just jump in the hotel pool up to your waist. Last January at Disney the Contemporary even sent out the lifeguards wearing their north face to keep an eye on us :). You stand there until you can’t take it and then beeline for the hot tub! Awesome!

  20. What does the ice bath do? Does it help the muscles that were worked? I’ve never taken an ice bath, or heard of one until this post, I am going to begin training for my first 26.2 (yeah!), will the ice baths help me? Thanks!

  21. LOVE ice baths! They totally work.

    My kids usually come in and gawk at me (which is why I soak with my undies on….), and my littlest one will play letters with me and we’ll test each other by sticking foam letters on the bathroom wall.

  22. I usually ease into an ice bath with a 30 second string of nonstop profanity, then I go numb(ish) and quiet right down. I never thought about bringing a hot drink with me. I’ll try that next time. I kind of like ice baths. They build character.

  23. I am a HUGE advocate of the ice bath! I agree…fill the bath first and then take the plunge! For my last couple LONG training run, we ran along the river, and the first thing I did when I was finished, was sumberge my legs in the river…natural ice bath! The couple times I didn’t make the time to take an ice bath, I regretted it!

  24. I have recently become a HUGE fan of taking the plunge into the ice bath. It is extremely restorative and my legs always feel so much better afterwards and especially the next day. My 2 year old enjoys throwing the ice cubes in and the last time she shockingly climbed in with me and refused to get out! Crazy kid!

      1. She is fearless and continues to amaze me everyday. 2 full bags of ice too! It was incredible. Makes me laugh out loud just thinking about her dancing around in the ice cubes!!

  25. That is exactly how I do mine! My friend Maggie (at Slice of Wife) gave me her method and it’s been awesome! I started doing them during my first marathon training and I swear it was the biggest reason I had limited soreness. The cold water feels SO good on my feet as they’re hot from the repeated pounding. Like you, I take my toes out toward the end. I think it’s also important to remember that you have to stay in for about 20 minutes or it doesn’t really benefit you that much. I usually would watch the TV that’s in my bedroom (which I can see from my tub) while I drink a cup of coffee. So glad you like it!

  26. I like SBS’s guideline that anything 2 hours and over gets the ice. Except that means I have to take one this weekend. Hmm…..

    My kids love to “help” and they often get in when I’m done (gross, I know!). Why do kids never feel cold water?

    The best ice bath, though, is the one you caught in that photo: outside, in a mountain stream. If I run anywhere near Boulder Creek in the summer, I try to do it there. Makes me feel like a water nymph (in technical clothing).

  27. The first time I tried an ice bath I yelled/screamed/howled so badly my dog went into a frenzy – I think he thought I was dying! LOL! Now I’ve learned I have to sit in the cold water first then add the ice – but I get in fully clothed, straight from the run and just add an extra-heavy sweatshirt. So far the longest I’ve lasted is 15 minutes – but it makes the world of difference when I do it.

  28. Anything over 10 miles is pretty much my marker for ice. I fill the tub, add the ice, then lower myself in. I’m a weirdo and will not take an ice bath without my swim bottoms on…like they help keep me warmer?? I don’t know what’s up with that mental oddity, but I’m glad to read from others’ comments that I’m not the only one with some strange ice bath habits. I always take hot coffee with me, too. I like the idea of wearing a warm hoodie on top…I might try that next time! I usually tell anyone that might be within hearing distance of the bathroom to ignore my shrieks and screams, because I can’t seem to hold them in, but I always feel better after ice. 🙂

  29. I sit in the water then add ice. Any mileage 14 and over requires an ice bath for me. My husband reminds me that the neighbors will think he is abusing me based on my initial yells. I don’t care. 12 mins is as long as I can take it

  30. I have been having some pain in my foot; I find that icing it doesn’t quite do the trick. So…I have been filling a medium sized waste basket with cold water and the entire stock of ice from my automatic ice dispenser. It really works great and I can do it while nursing the baby.

  31. My favorite ice bath experience wasn’t really a bath. I was camping in Maine and went for a 10 mile run on winding mountain roads. It was hot out, and I was not used to training on hills. My run ended at the beach and walking into the freezing cold ocean up to my waist was awesome!

  32. I must be a wuss. After my 2nd 26.2 in 3 weeks (wait, I’m NOT a wuss!) I totally thought I’d do my first ice bath. It made my feet hurt so much! I couldn’t even fathom getting all the way in. I spent about 3 minutes of 10 seconds in, 30 seconds out with just the feeties before I gave up. Maybe I’ll try the ice packs or the fill the tub while you sit methods above (thanks ladies!)…someday.

  33. I take my ice bath with a space blanket, keeps me toasty and easy to wipe the water off. Then I save them for my hiking pack.

    1. Oh, ho, very clever! I have saved a few space blankets…but then never use them. I might have to borrow your brilliant idea!

  34. The Pacific Ocean, especially past October, is just the right cold (and dirty) therapy that works. The pitfall — tons of sand you have to tote home!

  35. That first initial plunge is the hardest…I really have to psych myself up for it. I do make a warm vanilla (like a hot chocolate only with vanilla, milk and sugar…and now that I’ve found some cinnamon Cool Whip, some of that too) before I get in. I run the water and add the ice while I’m making the drink. I wear a fleece jacket on top and really need to work on finding some distractions, although holding on to the warm cup might be all I can handle. During training for my first half, I started ice baths at 9 miles (because that hurt…a lot). This time, I’ll take my first one this weekend after 10 miles.

  36. In college, there was a tub just for taking ice baths in the field house. I loved it!!! I don’t do distances long enough to warrant an ice bath anymore. But I did a half marathon last year and had my husband fill the tub with water and ice before he left to meet me at the finish line. He thought I was a crazy person for it! But I love it! It only stings for the first couple minutes, then it’s all good….

  37. Oh, if only all my ice baths could be in a CO stream…..after TCM I plunged into a kiddie pool that was out all night and that was colder than any stream or inside ice bath I’ve ever had. But I was happy the next day that I could make it down the stairs and get up off the toilet without wincing (like my husband was doing). For me it’s about killing the boredom once the initial, excruciating pain dies down. Gotta have my iPhone so I can play Words and then before I know it….15 minutes is up!

  38. I think it helps to scream/yell/cry when you first get into that freezing cold tub. After long runs in the summer in Phoenix, I actually start looking forward to an ice bath during my run, and then I think it won’t actually be so bad…but I still end up screaming and crying like a baby, and then obsessing over the time, wondering if my watch batteries have died or need to be changed because the time is going by sooooo slowly. I start off thinking I’ll soak a minute for every mile, but the bargaining starts early, and I’ve rarely made it past 10 minutes before I can’t take the cold anymore. It does bring my core temp down and helps me recover much faster from hard efforts though.

  39. Even if it’s only psychological, I change my bottoms into shorts & keep on my socks. Clearly, everything is still going to get iced, but for some reason it doesn’t seem as bad that way. Usually I will have had my chocolate milk by then so it’s green tea or coffee for me.
    No WAY I would bring my iPhone near the tub, it’s gone swimming enough already. Usually I have a magazine (& why do the kids & husband take such perverse pleasure in dumping in the ice?!)

  40. I take my “ice tubbie” as my 3 year old calls it after anything longer than 8 miles. I put the tea kettle on as soon as I walk in the door, head into the bathroom to fill the tub on cold, let the tea seep while I put all my gear away. I then grab the ice machine tray out of the freezer. My husband and I negotiated that I leave about 10 cubes but the rest hit the tub. I do sound like I’m being tortured as I lower myself in but I set the oven timer so as not to skimp on time. I clutch that mug of hot tea like it’s going to save my life! My daughter usually comes in a reads me stories for entertainment. She used to line her little people up on the side of the tub but after one fell in and splashed me I nixed that. I swore this kept me injury free during marathon training last year so it’s worth it 🙂

  41. Anyone who can survive an ice bath is a total BAMR, I don’t care how far or fast she runs. Most unsettling for me, aside from the sheer torture of the bath, are the noises that I emit during the process: they are PRECISELY the same as those during hard/non-drug enhanced labor…. I could NEVER last 10 minutes, let alone 20.

    I bow to you ice bathers. Rock on.

    1. LOL @ Phoebe’s comment, I also found that I made the hard labor sounds when I was getting into the ice bath…with my kids all lined up at the side laughing at me!

  42. I’ve finally “graduated” to ice wraps on my lower legs post-long run, but I haven’t taken the plunge.

    More on the WHEN? please: how quickly after the run does this have a beneficial effect? And do you stretch first?

    Thanks for the info on this!

    1. Hey CJ–You want to get in the bath as soon as possible after a long run. So come home, say hi to the fam, get your drink and fleece, and submurge. I wouldn’t stretch first…later in the day, after your muscles are a little more relaxed and not totally taxed after a long run.

      1. Do you think an ice bath would still be beneficial even after 2 hrs of completing my marathon this weekend? It will take me that long to getfrom the finish line to my tub.

      2. I’ve done ice packs on my calves after my longer walks recently….thinking of trying the ice bath….especially for the RnR SA in a couple of weeks…will it still help if I can’t do it right away…say, I want to enjoy a bit of post race and then have to walk back to my hotel? How long is too long after the race to take the plunge? (thinking of asking the hubby to dump ice in the tub before he comes to meet me at the end of the race)

  43. Okay – so apparently I’m wimpy! I prefer to sit in the empty tub, let the water fill up and then dump the ice in – THEN I start the timer! I’ve only done this a few times and it works wonders. I just ran my first half marathon this passed weekend and due to failed logistics on my end I was unable to make it home very quickly so I passed on the ice bath and just strapped ice gel packs randomly to my hurting or aching parts!

  44. BRUTAL! Ice baths are so hard. My husband can’t even do it…it actually causes him pain…a lot of it. I usually keep something on my bottom so that my vagina doesn’t totally freeze off and i keep my toes out of the water for the same reason…or I wrap them in socks and plastic wrap. Wonder if I could wrap my crotch in plastic wrap? hmmm. I usually put the ice in after I’m in the cold water. And t hen I hold on and hope that time passes quickly.

    1. I watched an episode of Mythbusters where they tested a theory that women have a higher pain tolerance than men. The pain tolerance or threshold was tested by having the subjects submerge an arm in ice water. On average, the women could withstand the torture longer than the men.

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