From reading forum threads on MTBR and fellow blogger's posts, I've been hearing a lot about ice baths and compression tights to aid in recovery.
When you work your muscles strenuously, they break down and even tear at the microscopic level. This process is natural, and after the muscles recover from the workout, they will rebuild stronger. The benefits of cold therapy allow this natural process to occur while actually quickening the recovery of the muscles. The cold reduces the inflammation that coincides with the micro tears. It also constricts the muscles fibers and veins that supply the muscles. This constriction squeezes out the lactic acid. When you get out of the ice bath, the warmth causes the veins and muscle fibers to expand back to normal, allowing a fast return of blood and oxygen to the muscles. You're left with muscles that retain less lactic acid, and plenty of oxygen to help the rebuilding process.
I've been intrigued, but up until recently, I'd never felt the need to try these things. My workouts, although hard, were never enough to make me feel like I needed anything more than a day off to fully recover.
Times have changed. The intensity of my workouts have increased. I am now doing HIT's (high intensity intervals) on back to back days. I am also doing HIT's starting on the Tuesday following a Sunday race. After two weeks in a row of racing, combined with my training load, my legs felt dead after my intervals the other day.
As I climbed the stairs in my house, I just knew that I'd stiffen up overnight. By the next morning, I'd be sore and dreading the next workout. I decided it was time to try cold therapy.
I grabbed a big bowl full of ice from the freezer. I also grabbed a book to keep me distracted from the cold. I brought along a hand towel so I could keep my hands dry while I read. Lastly, I grabbed a big towel to wrap around my upper body.
I sat down in the empty tub and started filling it with cold water. It wasn't too bad. My shoulders were nice and warm from my towel. I settled back against the back of the tub and started reading my book.
When the water was just about covering my legs, I added the ice from the bowl. The gradual change in temperature was not unbearable. I found that it was best to sit perfectly still. This way the water didn't slosh around and shock my warm skin. The book kept my mind occupied. I sat in that tub of freezing water for about 15 minutes.
When I stood up to get out, I was amazed at how sluggish my legs were. I felt like my legs didn't belong to me. It was hard to make the impulses from my brain convert to actual motion from my legs. I walked stiff-legged into the bedroom and put on my warmest pj's.
I felt great. The cold water was very refreshing and my legs felt amazing. Later on, when I had to run up and down the basement stairs to do laundry, I was shocked at how strong my legs were. It was as if I hadn't even worked out!
The next day, my legs felt awesome. I did my tabata workout and I never found it hard. Usually, I dread the last set.
Ice baths really work! It's not something I will do all the time however. I kind of felt like I needed one tonight after my attack intervals, but I just couldn't motivate myself to do it again.
I think I will look into some compression tights that have pockets for ice packs built into the legs. 110% Play Harder has some available online. I will check out some other companies too.