Backcountry hunters are no strangers to the biting cold of late-season hunting. It’s an unforgettable experience as relentless as the pursuit. But choosing to face this cold and submerge your entire body in it – now that’s a different challenge.
Welcome to the world of ice baths, where cold isn’t just endured, but embraced for a stronger body and mind.
Mental toughness and functional fitness are essential to MTNTOUGH. In the gym, they serve as a dress rehearsal for the real thing. In unpredictable conditions and challenging terrains, physical and mental strength can instantly become your most valuable possession.
It’s not just about enduring; it’s about finding ways to recover and rebuild.
That’s where ice baths come into play.
Adding ice baths to your routine is a contract - to resilience, to overcoming discomfort, to physical and mental gains.
This article explores five evidence-based benefits of ice baths and how they apply to mountain and tactical training recovery programs.
Diving into Ice Bath Benefits
More than a fitness trend, ice baths are a tested method for enhancing recovery from intense physical drain. Let’s break it down – an ice bath is a plunge into cold water, with ice added to drop the temperature.
The concept isn’t new, you can find cold therapy mentioned throughout Egyptian, Roman, and Greek records. Fast forward to today, it’s not just athletes reaping the benefits of this ancient practice. Military personnel, backcountry hunters, and those with professions and interests of all matter are diving in, seeking that edge in mental and physical toughness.
1. Reduced Muscle Inflammation and Soreness
Returning from a weekend hunting or enduring a grueling MTNTOUGH+ workout can leave your muscles feeling the burn. That’s where the power of ice baths comes into play. Diving into the science, it’s all about the dance between vasoconstriction and vasodilation.
By immersing yourself in an ice bath, you initiate the constriction of blood flow, reducing inflammation and alleviating that deep-seated muscle soreness.
Reduced Muscle Soreness
For the rugged adventurer or the disciplined serviceman, ice baths can be a real game-changer.
They work to minimize inflammation and relieve muscle soreness post those intense, boundary-pushing workouts by constricting blood vessels.
The anti-inflammatory effect of cold water immersion is backed by research, adding a layer of credibility to this age-old recovery method.
Reduced Joint Pain
Whether arthritis is your constant shadow or you’re plagued by occasional joint discomfort, ice baths might bring you some much needed relief. The cold water acts as a balm of sorts, reducing inflammation, alleviating pain, and enhancing mobility.
Couple this with a prehab or rehab program like MTNTOUGH’s MTN PT 2.0 or the MTNTOUGH MTNT MVMNT 2.0 program and you’re well on your way to actively conquering the discomfort of an old injury, and taking the proper steps to prevent new ones.
2. Enhanced Recovery and Performance
More than just braving the cold; ice baths provide a path for quicker recovery and amplified performance. For the mountain athlete, every second in the icy water is another step towards enhanced endurance, and a testament to the MTNTOUGH mindset.
Improved Muscle Recovery
Ice baths work wonders in promoting muscle repair. The previously mentioned constriction and relaxation of your blood vessels is to thank for this; where blood vessels tighten, reducing blood flow and minimizing muscle damage.
More than recovery, this has the potential to make you come back even stronger than before, ready to face the challenges of the wild with renewed vigor.
Do Ice Baths Reset Your Body?
The notion that ice baths "reset" the body is related to their potential to reduce inflammation and aid recovery. While they can alleviate muscle soreness and promote relaxation, the term "reset" is subjective, and scientific validation of a comprehensive body reset through ice baths is limited.
While the term "reset" might not have a strict scientific definition in this context, the combination of physiological and psychological benefits from ice baths can certainly contribute to a feeling of rejuvenation and reset for many individuals, preparing them for the next challenge, whether in the backcountry or daily life.
Enhanced Nutrient Absorption
The cold induces improved blood circulation, ensuring that essential nutrients find their way to the muscles, fostering repair and growth. It’s a synergy of the cold and the body’s innate resilience, speeding up the recovery process and preparing you for whatever’s next.
Do Ice Baths Remove Toxins?
Ice baths aid in flushing out toxins like metabolic waste due to vasoconstriction, contributing to recovery. However, the assertion that they remove "toxins" is ambiguous, as the definition of toxins varies. More research is needed to substantiate such claims in a broader sense.
The healing powers of ice baths have been a topic of discussion, especially around their ability to flush out toxins. But let’s demystify this – ice baths aren’t a magic detox potion. The concept of them removing “toxins” is one of the three most prevalent myths surrounding ice baths.
The body is a well-oiled machine, equipped with its natural detoxification process. The liver and kidneys work tirelessly, filtering and eliminating waste. Ice baths can support this innate system, aiding in recovery and reducing inflammation, but they don’t replace the body’s natural mechanisms.
If you’re trying an ice bath because you’re expecting some mystical experience of healing, you’re going to be disappointed.
To shrink any false expectations, ice baths are simply one toll in your entire kit that can help aid recovery to support your overall performance, but they won’t rewrite your body’s natural playbook.
While there are certainly benefits to ice baths beyond recovery, anything outside of this benefit is the runner-up.
3. Boosted Immune System
To make it through the backcountry and back home safely, you’ll need a body that can withstand the elements, albeit minor, ice baths can play a supporting role in boosting your immunity and even stimulating your antioxidant defenses in your body.,
Boosted Immune and Antioxidant Activity
Exposure to cold water acts as a catalyst for your immune system. Each session stimulates the production of white blood cells, the body's defenders against infections, viruses, and diseases.
This is an essential process for maintaining health, ensuring that you remain in peak condition when you’re most susceptible.
Additionally, cold therapy, such as ice baths, triggers the release of antioxidants in your body. These powerful molecules combat harmful free radicals, shielding your cells from oxidative stress.
The enhanced white blood cell production and antioxidant activity from ice baths is a solid bonus benefit for the activity.
4. Accelerated Metabolism
Aiming to rev up your metabolism? Ice baths are your go-to. The cold exposure elevates your metabolic rate, burning extra calories long after you've emerged from the icy waters. This is not just a fitness tactic or trendy topic; it's a core strategy for managing your energy in the backcountry.
Improved Fat Metabolism
The frigid temperature of an ice bath activates brown fat, which is your body's innate calorie incinerator. Embracing the cold optimizes the activation of brown fat, which helps burn calories to generate heat and keep your core body temperature up.
Did you know that infants have a far higher brown fat cell concentration than adults? As we age, the ratio of brown to white fat cells starts to turn. But this physiological change has recently inspired a new vein of obesity research. Learn about all the physiological responses to ice baths in our comprehensive guide to the science of cold immersion.
5. Enhanced Mental Well-Being and Function
Just like time spent in the remote wilderness, ice baths will test you far beyond your physical strength and endurance - you need mental strength as well. We’ve focused largely on the physiological response to cold therapy so far, but the psychological side is just as interesting. And possibly just as beneficial thanks to the profound impact cold therapy can have on our minds. From minimizing stress to forging greater mental strength, there’s a lot to unpack on the mental side of ice baths.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Dipping your body into the ice and feel the rush. The body will immediately hit back against the cold, releasing a flood of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.
This isn’t just a mood boost - it’s a battle against stress, anxiety, and depression. You come out of the water not just refreshed, but ready to face the next challenge.
Greater Resilience and Function
Every moment in that ice is a test - mind over matter. According to a 2019 study on cognitive performance and neurophysiological function, those who face the cold come out sharper and more focused. And it pays off in their next session in the ice water and on dry land.
This is the key to it all; embracing resilience and reframing an endurance challenge as an opportunity to strengthen your willpower.
It’s the same lens that’s central to MTNTOUGH’s MTN Mindset training courses.
The programs cover far more than mental toughness exercises, but you’ll find this concept a constant force throughout. In fact, all MTNTOUGH programs, body or mind, keep mental toughness exercises in focus. There’s so much to gain from pushing your limits.
As a recovery-focused activity, ice baths uniquely turn a challenge into greater resilience for your body and mind.
Incorporating Ice Baths into Your MTNTOUGH Routine
Stepping into an ice bath will gut check your willpower. That’s a valued service in the MTNTOUGH community, since we’re in the business of building stronger bodies and minds.
Integrating ice baths into your routine is a calculated and individualized decision.
Beyond testing your endurance, ice baths will teach you to embrace, adapt, and overcome the challenge.
This is the essence of holistic functional fitness, a core principle behind all MTNTOUGH programs. It’s not just physical grit; it’s mental toughness, the silent companion in every backcountry pursuit.
But let’s be clear, ice baths are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They pack a punch and demand respect.
It’s worth considering that this is best reserved for after an extremely intense challenge.
While the major point of this guide was to share the benefits, there’s a dual nature to ice baths - the undeniable benefits and the potential drawbacks and considerations that come with them.
To remain transparent and keep you as informed as possible, we’ve created a simple table to shed light on why ice baths are a powerful ally for some, yet a serious risk to others.
What Are the Pros and Cons of an Ice Bath?
|Reduces muscle damage from endurance and high-intensity workouts.||Can have adverse effect on tight or stiff muscles.|
|Reduces inflammation and swelling in muscles.||May decrease muscle growth and strength gains through overexposure.|
|Temporarily numbs pain from inflammation.||Cold shock can be dangerous for people with cardiac conditions.|
|For short durations, ice baths can have a positive effect on mood.||Risk of hypothermia if used incorrectly.|
For the uninitiated, caution is key. Start slow, listen to your body, and gradually increase your time in the cold. You can find the duration, temperature, and frequency guidelines in our deep dive into the science of ice baths.
Recognize your limits and prioritize your safety by starting slow. If you find that you have to get out of the water earlier than you’d hoped because of any risk, don’t ruminate on the decision. It’s the right one.
There’s a difference between prioritizing safety and showing signs of mental weakness. And stopping any activity because it poses a threat to your health is always the right one to make.
Brave the Elements and Build Resilience with MTNTOUGH
The benefits are multifaceted, from accelerated muscle repair and reduced inflammation to a fortified immune system and enhanced mental well-being. Ice baths will teach you to harness the cold, push boundaries, and build resilience, core tenets of the MTNTOUGH training philosophy.
The outcome is always a stronger version of yourself, capable of handling any situation faced.
We encourage you to experience the transformative power of facing extreme challenges and witness the strength it fosters.
With MTNTOUGH’s 14-day free trial, you can test your body and mind like never before, giving yourself more than enough reason to draw an ice cold bath to help bounce back. With two weeks of complete access to the entire MTNTOUGH library, you’ll certainly land on something that will test you.
So go ahead, discover if MTNTOUGH is your firestarter to a more resilient body and mind.