When a boxer wraps up their match, they’re in for another battle: the ice bath. You might think that this is some kind of punishment , but it’s actually an important part of the recovery process. It turns out there are many health benefits from taking an ice bath.

Boxers take ice baths as a method of recovery therapy. The immersion in ice water lowers the core temperature of muscle and skin tissue after a workout or boxing match. The benefits of ice baths derive from how cold temperatures contract blood vessels and numb nerve endings.

This article will explain the science behind the benefits of ice baths for boxers and why so many take them.

Benefits of Boxers Taking Ice Baths

The benefits of an ice bath for boxers come from the physiological response to cold temperature by our bodies. 

The act of entering an ice-cold bath might sound uncomfortable and counterintuitive. However, our circulatory and nervous systems’ reaction to the lower temperature makes this therapy effective. 

Ice baths provide physical recovery in the following ways:

Ice Baths Contract Blood Vessels to Reduce Swelling

During an intense workout or fight, a boxer will be using their arm, leg, and torso muscles intensely. As a result, the body will react by having the heart beat faster to fuel the muscles. The capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in our body, will expand tremendously—up to 20 times more than usual.

At the capillary level, our bodies exchange substances with the body tissues surrounding them. These substances include interstitial fluid. This essential body fluid is what can build up in muscle and joint tissue and cause swelling.

When capillaries are engorged, they can add more interstitial fluid to the surrounding tissue. This action aggravates the edema. When the capillaries contract, they draw this fluid into the blood plasma and reduce swelling and soreness.

The cold temperatures of an ice bath cause the blood flow in our circulatory system to decrease. As a result, our arterial pressure and venous pressure also decrease. In other words, both the freshly oxygenated blood and the oxygen-depleted blood drops in pressure.

This decrease extends down to the capillary level allowing the action described above to take place. The process may sound complex, but it provides boxers a fast and easy way to reduce inflammation in muscle tissue.

Ice Baths Reduce Soreness From Punches

Boxing is a contact sport. When receiving a punch, kinetic energy is transferred at the point of impact to the boxer’s skin and musculoskeletal tissue. This type of contact trauma will cause inflammation of the muscle and skin tissue in that location. More blood will circulate to those areas as a physiological response.

As a result, a boxer will have soreness due to the trauma of the punches they received and extreme muscle exertion. Fortunately, the same physiological process that lowers swelling and soreness from exertion also reduces soreness from punches. Yet another benefit of an ice bath.

Ice Baths Numb Nerve Endings

During a match, the added release of adrenaline can dull the sensation of pain from a landed punch. Ice baths not only reduce the underlying causes for swelling and soreness, but also minimize the onset of collateral pain in the moments after the match.

When a boxer’s body makes contact with the ice water, their nerve endings will be numbed. This numbness happens through a process known as high-intensity distraction stimuli. In layman’s terms, this action describes one sensation overtaking another.

With boxers, the sudden and complete submersion in ice water causes the nerve endings to flood the brain with the sensation of being cold. The intensity of that nerve signal overwhelms that of feeling pain.

In this way, boxers can experience numbness from immediate pain as the ice water goes to work on lowering swelling and soreness.

Ice Baths Quicken Recovery Time from Fatigue

Another reason why boxers take ice baths is due to how they relieve fatigue. A study conducted by the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia had subjects undergo a 15-minute ice bath immediately following a strenuous physical workout. At the end of these workouts, the study measured the subjects’ beta brain waves.

Beta brain waves are present when we are awake. Their presence in abundance can be an indicator of stress and fatigue. In the study, most readings indicated distinctive increases in beta wave activity at the end of physical exertion.

When the subjects had their brain wave activity measured after soaking in an ice bath for 15 minutes, their beta wave activity dropped. In other words, ice baths mitigate fatigue.

For a boxer, lowering fatigue after workouts and sparring matches is of great benefit. It allows them to focus more keenly on their training. In turn, this increased dedication to training helps improve their performance in the ring.

By taking ice baths, boxers suffer less from fatigue and can maximize their training efforts.

Ice Baths Help Clear Lactic Acid From the Muscles

The way that boxing is so physically demanding results in lactic acid accumulation in a boxer’s muscle tissue after a fight. Lactic acid is a byproduct that results when your body converts glucose into muscle energy.

Unfortunately, high concentrations of lactic acid in muscles can add to feelings of soreness and fatigue.

Soaking in an ice bath does not directly lower lactic acid levels. However, the moments immediately after getting out of an ice bath do.

To understand how this is, you must consider what happens to your blood supply when sitting in an ice bath. As the blood vessels and capillaries constrict, blood redirects to your body’s core. Less blood flows in your extremities at that moment.

When you leave an ice bath, your body senses the warming and sends that blood back to the extremities. In that process, lactic acid gets flushed from muscle tissue.

Final Thoughts

In helping reduce soreness, swelling, and fatigue, ice baths are an effective way for boxers to remain in peak condition. What may seem like a passive act of soaking in ice water unleashes a series of complicated physiological responses. These responses, in turn, deliver the desired results for the boxers.

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