Ice baths are a favorite for elite athletes these days as it helps heal microtears in the muscles, as well as flush out by-products out of your blood vessels by vasoconstriction.
The old days of sitting in a hot tub after a strenuous sport are only for recreational sports or winter sports for social reasons.
At the last Olympics, the Canadian Athletics team went out and bought huge plastic garbage bins (I’m referring to the yard trimming variety you get at Home Depot) and filled them with ice and cold water. Instead of celebrating a good race with a beer, one sits in an ice cold garbage can for therapy! How romantic!
- contrast baths (hot/cold )
- Epsom salts
What are Contrast Baths and Showers?
I’ll be the first to admit I hated these.
It’s 3 sets of 3 minutes hot water immersion followed by one minute of cold water immersion. Always end the session in cold water. 12 minutes of hell. Having 2 baths side by side is a luxury. You could use a bath for hot, then shower for cold. Or use showers for both if you have no choice.
Hot and cold, as the name implies, will help in circulation (good nutrients like oxygen to affected areas, bad byproducts flushed out) as well as shrinking inflammation and microtears.
If you hear strange yelling and screaming in the showers, now you know why!
Old Wives Tale: You Catch a Cold from Cold Weather and Changes
If you believe being out in the cold without a jacket or scarf can instigate the common cold, then contrast baths will be beneficial. Same with the theory of “sudden changes” or “change of weather” causing a common cold.
Contrast baths and showers will make you more resistant to catching the common cold along with taking extra doses of Vitamin C.
But we all know why you catch colds? In winter months being indoors, you are locked up and exposed to the rhinovirus. Carpets are also bad news. Catching a cold really has nothing to do with the cold weather, at least not directly.
Epsom salt is simply magnesium sulfate. It’s just another kind of “salt” like sodium chloride (NaCl, or table salt).
How much salt to add?
We’re not talking about a handful for Italian pasta, or those fancy packages from LUSH either. We are talking between a half a kilogram to one full kilogram of Epsom salt added to a hot bath. One big box of salt would be good for two baths. Don’t worry, it’s not expensive, at least in Vancouver when I tried it last.
Reported benefits: it helps you relax.
Unfortunately there no scientific proof it really works other than making the water feel silky. There’s no way to do a double blind study because you can tell which water is which.
Now, I know the benefits of magnesium (like in ZMA) but I have a hard time believing it can cross the skin barrier, no matter how long you soak. After all, that’s why we have skin! So we won’t desiccate.
If it does make you relax, then It’s probably the hot water. But for a couple of dollars, it might be interesting to try out.
To sum it all up:
Ice baths immediately after a hard workout then contrast bath or hot bath (with or without Epsom salt) later in the evening before bedtime.
Your parents, roommates or partner may start to wonder why you are spending a lot of time in the bathroom!