Most people would assume that as a Winter Olympian I love the cold, right? Wrong! I actually hate the cold. Unless it’s snowing or I’m snowboarding, wearing thermals and a ski jacket, or sipping on a mulled wine, the cold is not for me. So, you can only imagine my delight when my physio recommended ice baths and cold-water therapy (cold showers) as part of my recovery routine back when I was a professional athlete.
Ice baths and cold-water therapy are common in the sports world for recovery. We’ve all seen AFL footballers wading in the icy water at the beach or bay after training or a big match, right?
Originally, I got into taking ice baths and cold showers to assist with a back injury from sport about 12 years ago. I’d read the benefits but was still hesitant. At first it was so difficult, which I think was a result of years of training in the Alps. The cold temperatures there meant my circulation would get so bad I had to wear socks in the bath or shower as it felt like my toes were literally going to snap off! Being the determined person that I am, I decided not to give up on cold water therapy and hoped the long-term benefits would outweigh the short-term discomfort. No pain, no gain as they say, right?
The benefits I experienced were almost immediate. After my first cold water session, I felt reinvigorated and energised, and the feeling lasted throughout the day. Within a week or so, my back pain was improving, my recovery after training sessions was quicker, and I felt sharper and more motivated (by this point the socks had come off too!).
Each session became easier and the days that I didn’t do it I could really feel the difference. As the years went on and I retired from professional sport, it’s one of the few ‘rituals’ that stuck with me (albeit a more relaxed approach these days!). It’s less about muscle recovery for me now, and more about how it sets me up for the day and makes me feel mentally.
I believe that cold water therapy also helps me to better manage my stress and anxiety, and similar to when I first tried it all those years ago, it still has that same reinvigorating ‘shock’ effect that leaves me feeling energised and boosts my endorphins (happy hormones) first thing in the morning, before or after I work out.
Keen to give it a try? Remember to start small – There’s no need to immerse your whole body immediately. Start with your feet and work your way up the body. Start with low water pressure and 10 seconds and build your way up to a full pressure, full body, full minute experience over time.