Given this is uncharted territory for many of you, I want to provide some general guidelines to ensure a safe emersion (pun intended) into this cold therapy known as ice bathing:
- DO: Be conservative with water temperature as you get started. Most rehabilitation specialists recommend a water temperature between 54 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider starting a bit higher and inch this downward a degree or two each exposure.
- DO: Recognize that each individual will have his or her own cold threshold. Play within your personal comfort zone, and consider investing in booties (toe warmers made of wetsuit material) as your toes are likely the most sensitive body part to be submerged.
- DON'T: Overexpose! At the recommended temperature range above, 6 to 8 minutes should be sufficient. Unless supervised or you have history with ice baths, do not exceed 10 minutes.
- DON'T: Assume colder is better. Spending a prolonged period of time in water colder than 54 degrees could be dangerous.
- DO: Be aware that moving water is colder water. Much like the wind chill created when you ride, if there are jets in your ice bath and the water that is warmed at the skin's surface gets pushed away, the resulting impact of the water will be cooler than measured by the thermometer.
- DON'T: Assume 54 to 60 degrees or bust. Cool water (say, 60 to 75 degrees) can still be beneficial—as can active recovery (very light exercise to facilitate blood flow to musculature)
- DO: Seek to simplify. Building a personal ice bath daily can be a daunting task. Look for a gym that has a cold plunge, or if you live close to a river, lake or the ocean, keep tabs on the current water temperature.
- DON'T: Rush to take a warm shower immediately after the ice bath. The residual cooling effect and gradual warming are ideal. Consider initial warming options of a sweatshirt, blanket and/or warm drink... but DO take the shower if you are unable to warm yourself.
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Andy Schmitz serves as a Sport Performance manager for USA Triathlon. He works with athletes throughout USAT's development pipeline, from youth to Elite. Andy has been on the USA Triathlon Elite coaching staff at the past four ITU world triathlon championship events (2006-present) and was a U.S. team coach for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.