When tennis champ Andy Murray won a particularly long and grueling match at the U.S. Open in New York last week, all he longed for afterwards was an “emergency” ice bath.
Naomi Osaka is a fan of the cold treatment, too. “I just want to go into an ice bath,” she said after a three-set battle at the tournament last Friday.
So what’s the big deal and can ice baths improve performance for athletes or regular fitness buffs?
TODAY asked Dr. John Tabacco, a sports medicine physician in Arlington, Virginia, and the team physician for the NFL Washington Football Team; and Rebecca Stearns, an expert in exercise and heat, and chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.
What is an ice bath?
The process involves a tub or other large container that's filled with ice and water. Stearns has seen football players use trash cans for this purpose. Athletes will then submerge themselves in this cool cocktail up to waist level or higher for about 10-15 minutes or so.
“Athletes like it everywhere, in every training room and in every place I've been, and that spans every sport,” Tabacco said.
The sensation can be agony at first, as anyone who has had ice water poured on them during the Ice Bucket Challenge can attest. People may gasp in shock at first, but the body can grow numb to the pain after about 30 seconds.
This type of cold water immersion is much more intense than a cold shower because the water coming out of the tap would never get as cold as the ice water. Expect the temperature to hover at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so.