Ice Bath
© Raymond PrestonRugby players Jaque Fourie, Andre Pretorius and Jannes Labuschagne enjoy - or perhaps tolerate - an ice bath after a training session.
Training sessions for major sports events are gruelling. For mere mortals they can appear to be the pastime of superheroes.

Not only are there intense hours of high-performance exercises but some sportsmen like Britain's athlete Mo Farah adopt weird and inventive methods to increase their performance.

According to the Samsung Global Blogger, Farah uses an anti-gravity device and underwater treadmill to supplement his 195km-a-week running regime.

For many, cooling down after exercise involves a gentle stretch of the calf muscles and a bending over to the left and right of the abdomen - nothing too strenuous .

But Farah spends time in ice chambers that use liquid nitrogen. This might seem weird, but taking an ice bath after training has become standard practice.

Cooling or recovery techniques used usually include more traditional methods such as massage, stretching sessions, steam baths, yoga and swimming. But many athletes now claim that plunging into a tub of ice water (about 6C) after exercise increases their rate of recovery and helps reduce muscle pain.

Rocco Meiring, a swimming coach at Pretoria University's High Performance Centre, says: "This method is used for leg-intensive sports like rugby, soccer, cricket and athletics. Ice baths are often used in combination with hot baths or saunas after an intense training session or conditioning work."

So, how does an ice bath, and the combination of cold and hot, improve the speed and quality of recovery? Is there evidence that it works?

According to the BBC website, "the body recovers with the help of blood vessels that bring oxygen to the tissues and remove waste products of exercise, the most common being lactic acid".

"Too much lactic acid build-up can cause the muscles to function poorly and over a long period of time feelings of fatigue, heavy legs and general tiredness set in."

Standing in ice water causes the blood vessels to tighten and to drain blood from the legs, removing the lactic acid. The legs, after 10minutes or so, feel numb. Once out of the bath, either with the help of a hot bath or naturally, the legs rewarm and fill up with newly oxygenated blood, which vitalises the muscles.

While there are claims of their success, research about the pros and cons of these baths is inconclusive. The desired duration and temperature of the treatment is also up for debate.

Meiring says South Africans tend to come home from training or performing in other parts of the world and, without conducting proper research, adopt the latest trends they have seen used elsewhere. But generally, he says, top athletes know what's good for them when it comes to work-outs and nutrition.

"They realise what their optimal and most sensible balance between loading [training], recovery and passive rest is," he says.