Ice baths are crucial to post-match recovery, says Crofton Alexander.
For rugby players to stay at the peak of their fitness, post-match recovery is vital. They need to be able to train shortly after a match and be ready for the next game, which can be as soon as five days later.
Moreover, how well a player recovers can be the difference between longing for the next week to come around and being ready to throw in the towel after week one.
Ice baths have been used in professional sport for about ten years, and have been at the centre of debate. They’ve been the subject of extensive and ongoing research, as scientists have discussed what the optimum temperature and time spent in the bath is, whether it’s better to sit or stand, or whether to use an alternative method of recovery.
Initially, it was believed that the colder the temperature, the better the outcome would be. he cold constricts the blood vessels and limits the blood flow, slowing down the metabolism. This flushes out metabolic by-products such as lactic acid, which makes the muscles sore after a hard workout.
However, recent research has shown that too much time spent in too cold an ice bath can do more harm than good. Muscles are like rubber and become compliant when heated. So if too long is spent in the cold, they will stiffen up.
The aim is to restore the body back to its normal state, and in sport this has to happen at an accelerated rate, so the recovery process is manipulated.
Ideally, a player will spend between eight and ten minutes in water at 10-15°C straight after a game to reduce initial inflammation of the joints. Then, 24 hours later, they will spend two minutes in cold water followed by two minutes in water at 30-40°C, six times.
This is known as hot and cold flushing, and constricts and dilates the blood vessels, getting the blood flowing and softening the muscles.
Forwards tend to feel it more in the neck and shoulders, so prefer to sit in the bath, and the backs will be sorer in the lower body and favour standing.
Some players hate ice baths, and low-impact exercise such as cycling can also get the blood flowing without using excess energy. But even if the effect of an ice bath is only psychological, it can still help a player prepare for the following week.
Crofton Alexander is part of Wasps’ strength and conditioning team
Ice baths are good for the joints after a game
Use heat on your muscles the next day
If you hate the ice, try cycling instead