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The Ice Bath: A Video Tour

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I am not going to lie to you. Ice baths are brutal. They are a staple of training montages in movies because they evoke such a powerful idea of unreasonable suffering for the sake of achieving some goal.

And suffer you will. I would go into more detail of how unpleasant they are to experience but this is a family website (my take on the procedure at my running blog more fully provides my thoughts on the matter.)

Yet the bottom line is, they work. That 20 minutes of agony translates into faster recovery and refreshed legs, particularly after your most grueling workouts. Or so they say. There is some conflicting science into the reasons for the therapy's efficacity and some folks insist it's all nonsense. But many athletes, like myself, find ice bath therapy helpful for practical reasons -- my legs simply hurt less after a hard run when I use it.

To explain what ice baths do and don't do while giving you an idea of what you'll be getting into if you decide to try it, I scoured YouTube for some videos on the subject. You can find the results after the jump.

A year and a half ago I produced a post for SB Nation's site covering Alabama football Roll Bama Roll looking at the Crimson Tide's use of post-practice ice baths to promote player's recovery. Basically, the idea is that by using the ice bath to cool your body down rapidly after a hard workout, you body gets a jump start on the recovery process (since it won't have to wait to cool down like normal). While ice tubs have long been a staple of trainers in case of players overheating, only recently have they been employed as a regular training tool. While some do believe ice baths help by eliminating harmful by-products from workouts (such as lactic acid) the science to back that theory up isn't there yet.

In 2009, British actor/comedian Eddie Izzard - who had no prior endurance running experience - ran 43 marathons in 51 days to raise funds for charity. Ice baths were a key tool in completing the feat as they helped him accelerate the recovery of each day's run to prepare for the next. This clip from the documentary on the effort gives an idea of what it's like to do an ice bath and is one of the few that shows the post-bath recovery. You can't just hop out and heat your legs up, you have to let them warm up gradually to let it do its work. Also, moving background music doesn't make it any easier.

This, most likely, is what your ice bath is going to look (and sound) like. The two founders of RunningSkirts.com did a video of themselves dropping in an ice bath after working the expo for the Disneyland Half Marathon. Their plan was to use it to recover and get ready to run the race the next day. While they have done the procedure before, one of their sales staff takes the inaugural dip into the tub. You're experience will be almost exactly like this.

Ice baths are usually done in plastic tubs of some sort. I've even seen shots of endurance athletes using brand new trash bins as a makeshift cold tub. This clip of the Irish rugby team Ulster shows how the popularity of the therapy but health concerns with reusing a single tub has launched the creation of specialized equipment. It's also interesting to note that the expert cites the theory of "cleaning the body" that is not firmly supported by the available science. That aside, the reaction of the athletes is typical -- they say they hate doing it but love the result.

If you look on YouTube for "ice bath" you'll find a lot of runners, endurance athletes and mixed martial arts folks touting the procedure but this one was a bit of a surprise. It's the British five-piece vocal group, Take That, who used cold tub therapy to recover from the performances during their reunion tour last year. As odd as it might seem at first glance, it makes complete sense. Tours with a lot of shows require a fast recovery time. Even the world famous Rockettes use it. Of course the whole-body immersion approach is a little bit too hard core for me.