The ice bath is used to:
- Constrict blood vessels and flush waste products, like lactic acid, out of the affected tissues
- Decrease metabolic activity and slow down physiological processes
- Reduce swelling and overall tissue breakdown (1)
Contrast protocols, which include the use of Warm Baths at intervals between bouts of ice have provided a good sense of well being with athletes after heavy bouts of exercise.
Research indicates the jury is out on the time (anywhere from 30 second rounds in contrast – up to 3-minutes) and then the exact temperature points in which to work, so strength coaches and trainers are left to try to figure out exactly- what works best.
I have used 2-minute Cold (50 degrees and below) and 1 minute Heat (over 80 degrees) to some success. How do you measure the success? Very subjectively- how the athlete feels the next day.
Is this a scientific process? No.. it still requires a great deal of research, but in the meantime- if it feels good…and allows the intensity to be repeated… go for it.
(1) Elizabeth Quinn at About.com