10 & 2 Q: Workout Recovery: Sauna vs Ice Bath

Do you DREAD ice baths but power through in the sake of recovery? Or maybe you’ve considered doing them but are too scared to dip your little toe in a tub as cold as Antarctica…

In this week’s 10 and 2 Q I go into the research on hydrotherapy for training recovery. As well as, the alternative: HEAT! Saunas…

Depending on your personal preference, heat and cold therapies have research backing both of their benefits.

If you do cold therapy, I recommend not doing it soon after your training if you really want to see the benefits of your therapy.

Nicki: Robb, what do think about all of the cold water immersion stuff, and the popularity of people jumping in ice baths and whatnot?

Robb: Hydrotherapy and everything? It’s good stuff. I mean, it’s definitely cool. The thing about the ice baths, in particular … If you do it post-workout, it appears to blunt the adaptation for the workout. If you’re a CrossFit Games competitor and you need to … or some sort of high-level competitor and you need to be ready to go again quickly, and you don’t really have time to allow the normal inflammatory process to occur in between a training session, then I could see the benefit. But the point of training is not really the training, it’s the adaptation that occurs. This cold immersion can really shut that down. It appears to be somewhat similar to taking NSAIDs.

Robb: It’s funny, physical activity, the adaptation that occurs with that is more in the heat shock protein family versus the cold shock protein families, which all of these things are hormetic stress responses. All of them have great benefit. But the heat shock proteins are more specific to actual physical activity. So I could make a case, and maybe it’s just my bias because I don’t actually like cold water immersion too much. Nicki likes it better than I do. But I would rather a sauna, a hot immersion, than a cold one. I kind of feel like even if I did a hard weight training session, if I did a hard jiu-jitsu session and then I do heat exposure, I just feel better after that. I don’t know. I’m sure that, again, the poison’s in the dose on all that stuff. I think there’s benefits to both sides of this temperature extreme exposure. There’s clear research that supports that.

Robb: But, I guess at being almost 50 and I’ve done a lot of stuff in my life because I thought I should do it, and now I look at what are some things that are potentially beneficial? Cold immersion, heat exposure. Okay. I fucking hate cold immersion so I’m not doing the exposure. So there’s a little bit of personal bias on that. But I think also just something to keep in mind, again, is if you are doing the cold exposure, you probably want to get it as far away from physical activity as you can, maybe even hours before versus hours afterwards. Because it’s that after time that, again, is when the adaptation occurs. But I could also chalk a fair amount of this up to just kind of personal preference.

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