The Dynamic Duo: Ice baths & Sauna for optimal recovery

The Dynamic Duo: Ice baths & Sauna for optimal recovery

3 Min Read

Professional athletes are always looking for innovative techniques to incorporate into their routine to maximise performance and minimise recovery time. In recent times, they have turned their attention to therapies that have stood the test of time - Ice baths and Saunas. Having both been practised for thousands of years by cultures from across the globe, from Native American to Ancient Greece, these contrasting therapies have been embraced for their incredible benefits to athleticism and your overall well being.

Let’s do an in-depth look at:

  • Benefits of ice baths
  • Benefits of Sauna
  • Which one or both is best for recovery?


Ice Baths


Ice baths are a great technique to add in to your overall wellness routine, and to your post-workout recovery routine to reap a huge amount of benefits. They involve submerging your body into cold water, up to your neck ideally, between the temperatures of 2 degrees celsius to 15 degrees celsius.


How to prepare for an ice bath?


Before entering the ice bath, doing a short breathwork is crucial to prepare the body and mind before subjecting it to extreme cold. It can help to calm your nervous system, enhance mental focus, regulate your heart and breathing rate and enable you to stay inside the ice bath for longer. It is best to start by staying in the ice bath for 2 minutes, and gradually increase the duration up to 10 minutes. During the ice bath, you may begin to hyperventilate (breathing fast and shallow) which is totally normal as your body is shocked by the cold, but the key is to keep your attention on extending your exhale through pursed lips and calming the mind. You can do it!


Benefits of post-training Ice Baths


1. Reduced Inflammation and muscle soreness, resulting in faster muscle recovery time

Intense exercise causes micro-tears along the muscle fibre. Inflammation increases to heal the tears, which leads to the feeling of muscle soreness. The ice bath causes vasodilation, reducing the swelling and inflammation.

2. Flushes out the muscles lactic acid

This reduces muscles aches and activates the muscles ability to heal after training. 

3. Boosts your immune system

Short term physiological stress by cold water immersion was found in a 2014 study to boost the body's production of T & NK immune cells. This can protect you from diseases and infections, ensuring you're not out of your training routine for long. 

4. Build mental resilience 

By regulating your breath and your nervous system, you train the mind to stay calm, composed and focused in the face of physiological stress. You will need mental resilience to get you through the long and tough rides too!  

5. Improved mood

Czech researchers found that cold immersions can boost your dopamine levels, our happy hormone, by 250% (the same as cocaine!) for as long as 2-3 hours. 




      Most gyms and health centres have a sauna, even if they seldom get used. Let’s look at why you should add an extra 15 mins on to the end of your workout to relax in the sauna. You can put tremendous strain on your muscles and joints after an intense ride or workout session. Engaging in heat therapies, such as saunas, have a wide range of benefits for enhanced athletic recovery and preventing injury to ensure you can get back on the bike training as quickly as possible.


      How to prepare for a Sauna?


      For the best results, it’s best to stay in the sauna for 30 minutes, however if that is too long you can break it into 15 mins chunks, taking a 2 min cool down break. It is also great to make the most of the heat in the sauna and do some gentle stretches. The warmth allows your muscles to ‘loosen up’, increasing flexibility and muscular performance.

      Don’t forget to stay hydrated before, during and after the sauna, as your are likely to sweat out a lot.


      Benefits of post-training Sauna


        1. Increased blood flow

        Due to vasodilation, blood flow increases and your muscles get flooded with more oxygen and nutrients, aiding in a faster recovery.

        2. Soothes stiff joints

        Saunas can stimulate the production of synovial fluid, creating more lubrication and greater mobility. The heat also relaxes muscle tension, alleviating the stiffness surrounding the joint.

        3. Reduced muscle soreness

        Deep heat penetration into your muscles enhances the recovery of your fast-twitch muscle fibres (the one’s responsible for short bursts of energy - like a sprint or hill on the bike) and releases muscle tension. Less soreness means less discomfort, plus you will be back to training faster with refreshed muscles.

        4. Release of endorphins - your feel-good hormones

        Endorphins have both pain-relieving and mood-enhancing properties which can make you feel great, minimise discomfort and make you eager to come back for more! 


            Can I combine ice baths and saunas for recovery?


            Absolutely! Contrast therapy, using both heat and cold together, provides maximal recovery benefits post training. Traditionally, it’s best to start off with the heat exposure, followed by cold exposure - this is the ‘fire and ice’ method. Doing both together promotes the release of both cold shock proteins, which strengthens the immune system and heat shock proteins, reducing inflammation.

            It’s thought that ice baths tend to be more beneficial after long cardio sessions and sauna is best after strength training. Combining the two will fast-track your muscles healing process and reduce inflammation.

            Individuals with health conditions should consult a physician before incorporating contrast therapy into their routine. You may prefer one over the other and you can play around with the duration and intensity of heat and cold - get exploring!


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