6 Tips to Use Icing for Improved Performance and Recovery
If your workouts are extremely difficult (and if you're a Spartan, they should be), you need ice. If your training and racing leaves you with bruises and swelling in your skin and muscles, you need ice. If that cranky knee, ankle, or shoulder joint feels “fuller” with an increase in joint fluid after your workouts, you need ice.
For most Spartans, the bottom line is this: Your skin, muscles, tendons, and joints are fighting inflammation. Ice is a safe, effective, and cheap way to supercharge your recovery. In other words, ice should be your best friend. (You can even go as far as submerging your entire body in a 39-degree Cold Plunge, which Spartan CEO Joe De Sena does as part of his regular unbreakable training regimen.)
Related: 3 Things You Need to Know About Cryotherapy
Some people in the sports world contest whether athletes should use ice when they suffer from an acute or new injury. I disagree with the doubt around ice treatment, and here's why.
- Excessive inflammation is never good: Inflammation triggers the body’s ability to heal itself, granted. But using ice for 10–15 minutes is not going to completely eliminate all traces of inflammation. Therefore, even if you use ice on a new injury, this key inflammatory recovery mechanism is still involved with injury healing.
- Bleeding needs to be controlled: Ice reduces blood flow to an injured body part. Therefore, ice reduces excessive bleeding into a disrupted muscle, tendon, or ligament.
- Ice is safer than medicine: Pain medicine can be dangerous, unpredictable, addictive, and expensive. Ice is safe, consistent, effective, and cheap.
The Best Methods of Icing for Athletes
1. Ice Bags or Packs
Add compression with an elastic bandage or strap and leave it on for a maximum of 15 minutes.
2. Ice Massage
A paper cup filled with frozen water is a great way apply ice to a localized area for up to 10 minutes. (Ice massages provide the deepest penetration of the cold therapy.)
3. Ice Bucket
Submerging the injured body part into a bucket of ice water for up to 10 minutes is an aggressive (but very effective) method for a fast and long-lasting physical therapy treatment.
4. (Not) Frozen Vegetables
Frozen peas are a cute way to ice your young kids or grandparents. But if you’re a Spartan who trains hard, you need to ice hard. To do this, use one of the above three ice options instead of the vegetables in your freezer.
Related: Extremes: Does an Ice Bath Work? The Sauna?
Pro Tips to Effectively Ice an Injury or Inflamed Area
1. Ice Hurts
... But it works. Get over it.
2. Treat the Trickle — Don’t Wait for the Puddle
Icing immediately after a workout when the swelling may be slowly trickling into an injury is smart. Waiting for an injury to become swollen, red, and hot before icing will only delay your recovery.
3. If It Hurts, Ice It
I worked full-time in the NFL for 26 years, so I can tell you this: Pro athletes know that ice works. Ice helps keep them in the game so that they can make millions and millions of dollars.
4. Keep at Least Five Ice Cups in the Freezer
To stay active for a long time, you need to win the inflammation war. Having at least five ice cups and ice packs in your freezer 24/7 will keep you prepared for battle.
5. Use Ice With Motion
I love this trick. Icing while moving a body part will reduce post-ice stiffness while accelerating the blood flow through a cooling body part.
6. Take Your Cold Therapy to Go
Many athletes avoid icing because they don’t have time to make an ice bag, wrestle with a wrap, and lie on the couch for 15 minutes. The solution? Wrap an ice gel pack on before you jump in the shower, drive back to work, or eat your lunch. These are simple ways to multitask in your busy life while getting healthier with cryotherapy.
Related: 10 Tips to Maximize Sauna Training Benefits and Spike Race Performance
How Should You Decide Whether to Use Ice or Heat on an Injury?
- If a body part is warm, swollen, and/or painful, ice it.
- If a body part is stiff, tight, and pain-free, heat it up with a hot tub, active motion, or a moist heat pack.
- An electrical hot pack is one of the most injury-producing forms of treatment for patients. They heat up fast and painful skin burns are more common than you think, so be careful when using them.
- Heat from the inside out instead of heating from the outside in. Using active motion activities such as a bike, stretching, and even walking will increase muscle and joint temperature and pliability.