How to improve your recovery with ice baths.
Ask almost any top player how they’re feeling and most of the players will tell you that most of the time they are fatigued, jet lagged or are carrying a niggling injury. This is totally understandable considering the excessive travel they undertake, the pounding they put their bodies through and the constant grind of tournaments they play. The need for a good recovery regime becomes obvious. While stretching, foam rolling, nutritional strategies and down time are important aspects to the player’s program and recovery regime, there are few things that can make an athlete feel as good as they do after an ice bath.
If you’re staying at a hotel, call the concierge as you leave the courts. Let them know you’re going to need about 16kg of ice, and ask if they can deliver it to your room. If you’re staying at home pick up some ice from local bottle shop. They normally have some big party bags of ice – you’ll probably need three to five bags.
Run the bath (with cold water only) about half way. For most baths this seems to take about 15 minutes. This will allow some time for the player to change into appropriate clothing and have a short shower, removing sweat, clay, sunscreen, etc. Pour the ice into the bath. Sometimes the ice blocks can freeze into one massive block, which is not ideal. Make sure your drop the bag from a couple of feet a few times to break it into smaller pieces.
It is important to remember that the ice bath is part of a recovery regime and therefore it shouldn’t be stressful to the athlete. It should be cold, yes, and it can take their breath away, but it shouldn’t be stressful. Start off with a 30-second interval in the bath. The player can choose to alternate this with a hot shower, a neutral shower or no shower for no more than 30 seconds – a one to one ratio.
If they handled the temperature adequately then aim for one minute for the second interval. Continue this process until the athlete has accumulated at least five minutes of ice bath cooling within a ten minute period.
Remember, a jacuzzi-style ice bath, with a thermostat, refrigerator and pump keeps the water at a relatively constant temperature. However, a home-made ice bath (as above) will increase in temperature over time, especially if there are multiple players using it. This means that the players will have to stay in the bath for each subsequent interval for longer periods to attain the same effect. At the National Academy we have a pool thermometer so we can keep an eye on the temperature and adjust times accordingly.
The player should always finish on the ‘cold’. This means that even if they choose to have a shower after the baths, this shower should be cool. Once showered, the player can choose to dress warmly and should be allowed to rest (or sleep) in a quiet room for approximately 30 minutes. Include some ice baths into training and recovery regime and see how your body is able to tolerate great work loads, and recovery from injuries quicker.
Grant Jenkins is the Physical Performance Coach at the National Academy Queensland in Australia. He oversees the physical development and rehabilitation of all the NAQ athletes. He also manages the Sport Science aspect of the program. Follow him on twitter @Grant_Jenkins or email firstname.lastname@example.org.