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Why Do MMA Fighters Take Ice Baths? Simply Explained

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There are many ways that an MMA fighter will prepare for a match. One of the most interesting parts of this routine is taking an ice bath. But how does this help them prepare for their match? 

There are three primary reasons why MMA fighters use ice baths. First, it will reduce inflammation, reducing muscle pain. Secondly, it can be used to improve recovery time. Third, it can clear their mind, so they can focus on the fight ahead. 

As you can see, ice baths have a profound impact on the body. This allows athletes to prepare their bodies for the octagon.  Keep reading to learn more about what an ice bath is and the scientific reasons for using it. 

What Are Ice Baths?

Let’s start by talking about what an ice bath is and how athletes take them. The tub will be filled with cold water. To further lower the temperature, ice cubes will be added to the bath. This should lower the water to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or ten degrees Celsius. 

How long the athlete will sit in the water will often depend on how experienced they are. If this is their first time taking an ice bath, they might only stay in the water for around five minutes. However, the standard is between 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, the ice water will cover the majority of their body, up to the chest. This will be long enough for them to start experiencing the health benefits. 

Why Do MMA Fighters Take Ice Baths?

Taking an ice bath can often be unpleasant. The sudden exposure to low temperatures can force oxygen out of your body, which can make you feel winded when you first go into the bath. The cold can cause pain, particularly in the hands and feet. These effects will be worse the first few times that the athlete takes a cold bath. Over time, they will start to build resistance. 

The reason why many MMA fighters continue to stick with this practice is because of the benefits they can experience. These can include

  • Reducing muscle pain
  • Improving sleep, so they have less fatigue before a fight
  • Decreasing the effect of heat
  • Lower inflammation to improve recovery speed
  • Helping to clear their mind and manage stress

Because of this, athletes who complete an ice bath will often be able to improve their performance in the octagon. Because of this, it has become a standard part of training. Today, most coaches will encourage their fighters to at least try taking an ice bath.

Brock Lesnar is taking an ice bath to recover after training
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Should All Athletes Take Ice Baths?

The prevalence of ice baths raises an important question. Should all athletes take ice baths?  Studies have found that when the body is placed into a cold environment the veins will constrict. This slows blood flow. 

Whether taking an ice bath is the right option will usually depend on the circumstances. Cold temperatures have proved to be effective at reducing inflammation. This is a good way of controlling swelling and pain. This can be a good option after a grueling fight, helping to improve recovery

However, if the athlete is preparing for a fight, they might not be the best option. An ice bath will control inflammation. While painful, some inflammation is needed to build muscle. Studies have shown that those who took ice baths regularly during a three-month strength training period built less muscle. Furthermore, a small amount of inflammation might be good for recovery. 

Because of this, researchers concluded that taking ice baths might be good for athletes who are in a tournament, where they need to make a quick recovery. But if they have the time, they might be able to build muscle more effectively without the ice bath. 

This area is still being researched by scientists. Because of this, the full effects it has on the body are still being discovered. For most average people, though, there won’t be any need to take an ice bath. 

What Are the Risks of Ice Baths? 

An ice bath won’t be suitable for everyone. There are a few risks associated with this activity. These include: 

  • Heart attacks. When you go into cold water, the blood flow around the body will slow down. For people with underlying heart conditions, this might increase the risk of a heart attack or a stroke. 
  • Tissue damage. There is a chance that you can damage soft tissue if you stay in the bath for too long. This will result in an injury that is similar to the effects of frostbite. 
  • Fainting. There will be less blood flowing to your spine and brain. This can cause fainting. It can also cause drowsiness or blurred vision. 

It should be noted that these effects won’t impact everyone. But for those who are impacted, it can be very dangerous. For example, heart attacks can be fatal. As a result, an athlete will often be monitored by a coach or doctor as they enter the ice bath. This allows them to take swift action if they are negatively impacted.

Does an Ice Bath Burn Fat?

While many MMA fighters will use ice baths to help them manage inflammation, some people claim that they can be used to burn fat. This idea was popularized by authors like Tim Ferris. However, scientists say that an ice bath will have little impact in this area. 

In reality, an ice bath can have the opposite effect. Cooling the body will slow metabolism, this will make it harder for you to burn fat. For those interested in this area, it will be best to raise your body temperature by doing activities that make you sweat. This can mean going to a gym or visiting a sauna.  

Is a Cold Shower the Same as Ice Bath?

Cold showers will offer similar benefits to an ice bath. However, they won’t provide the same immersive experience. In this case, the primary benefit will be your mental health. A cold shower can give you time to focus and de-stress after a busy day. It can also be a good way to get used to cold water if you plan on doing ice baths. 

Is Cryotherapy the Same as an Ice Bath?

At first glance, cryotherapy is similar to an ice bath. Both will rapidly cool your body. However, there are a few unique features that help set cryotherapy apart. These include: 

  • Lower temperatures. An ice bath will only be able to get down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). However, cryotherapy can get the air temperature low as negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit (-184 degrees Celsius). 
  • Shorter usage times. An athlete will have to spend between 10 to 15 minutes in an ice bath to get the benefits. Because of the lower temperature, they will only have to spend between two to five minutes in a cryotherapy chamber. 
  • Cryotherapy can be targeted. While an athlete might opt to go into a whole-body chamber, others will prefer to target areas. Cryotherapy can be applied to specific parts of the body. 

Like ice baths, the benefits of cryotherapy are still being actively investigated. Though it should offer the same effects as an ice bath, within a shorter period. 

Final Thoughts

Ice baths have become a common tool for MMA trainers. After a fight, it can be a good way for them to reduce the inflammation and pain their fighters are experiencing. It can also be a good tool to use before a fight, allowing them to clear their minds. While many athletes will swear by an ice bath, the science is unclear. It might be able to reduce inflammation, but it also slows muscle growth. Because of this, it’s recommended that it is used selectively, rather than as part of a daily routine.