Icing, via the use of an ice pack or an ice bath, is one of the most commonly used techniques in sports for preventing or treating injuries, such as sore muscles. Although some athletes may use ice baths after a strenuous exercise, some believe that icing before exercise may also provide benefits. Although ice baths may help reduce pain, it is not clear what effect, if any, they have on muscle function.
Ice baths and other sources of cold temperature have numerous effects on the human body. Initially, HealthFiend notes, ice causes your blood vessels to constrict, which can flush out lactic acid and other toxins from the muscles. Later, when you leave the ice bath, the blood vessels relax, allowing fresh blood to enter the tissue. According to Intelligent-Triathalon-Training, the cold temperature is thought to help reduce inflammation and improve muscle activation. Ice may also help to slow metabolic activity in your muscles and help you feel relaxed. Although these effects are more commonly used to help the body recover after exercise, not before, some of these effects may also be helpful before exercising.
Ice and Soreness
One reason why people may prefer to use an ice bath before working out is to reduce muscle pain. In addition to reducing inflammation, which can cause swelling and pain in sore joints, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that the use of ice was significantly able to reduce pain in a variety of settings. The New York Times suggests that this may be because the cold temperature helps slow the activity of sensory nerves, reducing pain signaling.
Ice Bathing and Strength
The effects on an ice bath on muscle strength are not clear. One study, published in 2002 the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, found that applying ice to soleus muscle improved the amount of force it could generate. On the other hand, a review published in 2012 in Sports Medicine found that most studies have found that applying ice to a muscle reduces its strength. This suggests that immersing yourself in an ice bath before a workout could actually hinder your performance.
Ice baths before workouts may also increase the risk of injury. If your muscles and joints are numbed from the bath, they may not be as effective at stabilizing joints, leading to an increased risk of sprains, strains and other injuries. The 2012 article in Sports Medicine also suggested that icing may reduce fine muscle control. Regardless, before you begin any icing regimen before working out it is important to talk to a doctor or some other fitness professional before making a significant change to your regimen.