I’m back from this morning’s race (the Mumbles duathlon – I’ll write up a thing later) and I eventually got myself into a cold bath, and then a hot shower. Ideally it would be an ice bath and a hot bath, but this is the routine that is the best mix of convenience and effective recovery for my situation.
I thought I’d mention the importance of distraction. A cold bath is pretty unpleasant. I stood in the sea after the race this morning and that was cold, cold, but a full cold bath feels cold, cold, cold. Cold. If you get in and think about it, you don’t stay in for long. And you should wiggle your legs every now and then to bring freshly cold water back to your skin as the surrounding water warms up. So I grab my iPad or iPhone (risky I know, but worth it) and play games. Angry Birds is always good, but today I went back to an old game called Godfinger All-Stars. Anything that focuses your mind on the game and not the tingling in your legs, the sharp stabs, the developing pinkness, or the shivering. Actually, when you start shivering that’s probably the time to get out. Some people wear down jackets so that they can stay in longer. Not tried that myself.
Gareth, who looks after my legs, recommends getting a big wheelie bin to fill with cold water and ice next to your hot bath. That way you can get into the wheelie bin, then the bath, then the wheelie bin, then the bath, and so on. That’s probably the most effective way to use this technique, but a single cycle of cold and then hot is much, much better than other (non-water) forms of recovery for me.
So why do we use cold water for recovery anyway? As I understand it, with intense exercise cell membranes and connective tissues within the muscles tear, leaking fluid into the surrounding spaces. Interstitial fluid pressure builds, meaning that it’s harder for arterial blood to enter the muscle. Cold water immersion causes vasoconstriction (of the blood vessels in your legs) helping push out fluid from the muscles. Warm water immersion causes vasodilation, helping blood flow back into your muscles. You can see why repeated hot and cold cycles would be preferred to aid recovery. Nonetheless a single cycle seems to be very effective at reducing some of that post-exercise interstitial fluid pressure which kicks off subsequent improved recovery.
Nice, huh? But don’t forget the distraction.
Here’s a link to a Peak Performance Online article about recovery strategies: Recovery training is vital for achieving maximal physiological adaptation as well as for reducing the risk of illness and injury