Ice baths are one of the most effective active recovery methods for worn out muscles. Using your muscles for intense training causes lactic acid buildup and small micro tears to develop in the muscles. This can caused delayed onset muscle soreness (the notorious DOMS). Ice baths help prevent DOMS by increasing blood circulation.
Positive effects from ice bathing continue to take place well after the bath itself. After a cold therapy session blood gets pushed back into the muscle which flushes out lactic acid. This enables you to use your muscles much sooner without them felling like jelly. Researchers believe that this attempt from the body to warm itself up stimulates the body into an increased metabolic rate. This forces the body releases more white blood cells.
The Thrombosis Research Institute in England confirmed that cold shows do in fact increase the body's immune system through increasing white blood cell count in a 1993 study.
2) Decreases muscle pain/inflammation
The most common advice given to people after an injury is to "ice" it. While most of the time this is referring to an ice packs, it makes sense that a full ice bath should be much more effective.
When your body is in the cold water the blood vessels constrict and pull blood away from the muscles and brings them into the organs. This reaction greatly reduces inflammation of the micro tears as well as any other body injury.
PhD Chris Bleakley, a researcher from the University of Ulster, North Ireland says, "The ice bath reduced muscle soreness by about 20%."
3) Increases metabolism for accelerated fat loss
Your body will burn any fuel it has to stay at its healthy operating temperature. Think about how when it's hot you sweat or when it's cold you shiver. Well sweating and shivering are just a few of your body's natural temperature control responses.
Cold water is bar none the most efficient way to quickly decrease body heat and kick-start your body's fat burning furnace. The best part of this is the calories burned as heat mostly comes from fat.
4) Causes the body to produce a plethora of good chemicals
Many people swear that an ice bath is a sure-fire stress reducer. These claims can be back up by numerous studies. Researchers from the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University school of medicine found that ice baths help stimulate production of a chemical called noradrenaline. Low production of noradrenaline has been linked with depression.
I know that every time I leave an ice bath, I feel energized and invigorated. It's an instant energy boost when the heart is pumping, and blood is rushing through the body. For me, the spike in energy can last several hours.
The Thrombosis Research Institute (the same Institute referenced in #1) showed that cold water showers actually increase testosterone production in men. Increased testosterone levels not only boost a man's libido, but also his overall strength and energy level. If you're looking to increase your testosterone remember cold therapy is way less dangerous than steroids.
5) Improves the looks of your hair and skin
Hot water dries out skin and hair, but cold water can do the opposite. The benefits of ice water bathing have been known for decades, and even beauty celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe used to use ice baths to firm up their skin. Ice baths helps make hair shinier and skin look healthier. This is because the cold contracts your cuticles and pores, while improving circulation to skin and hair cells.