When a hard workout fills my muscles with lactic acid or my legs are just really tired from lots of miles I find that an ice bath helps me recover very quickly. Although these do take some time to get to used to they are a very helpful tool.
According to Nikki Kimball, a physical therapist and ultra runner in Bozeman, Montana; the Cryotherapy ("cold therapy") constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body.
"Ice baths don't only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles," says David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished both the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run 10 consecutive times.
During the summer months you might need 2 bags of ice since tap water can be lukewarm. Gather something to occupy your mind while you are doing the bath. Put on your running shorts and an old sweat shirt or long sleeve T-shirt to help keep your upper body warm. I even put on Smart wool socks to keep my feet a little insulated.
Now for the fun. Get in the empty tub and let the cold water come up to your waist, then add the ice. Soak in the water for just 15 to 20 minutes only, more is not better! This is the same amount of time that you want to ice an injured body part. Try not to jump in a hot shower after your cold bath.
Dry off and let your legs warm-up over a period of about 30 minutes to an hour if possible, allowing your body to flush out the waste products as your body warms itself. The sooner you can do this after a hard or long run the better, but the evening or next day is not too late.
Ice baths are not always fun, but they are commonplace among the elite runners, and can be extremely beneficial to your running recovery. Stay cool!