Is R.I.C.E. Right? New Thinking on Recovery

I shared the first part of this video series awhile back on my twitter, @TheTriPirate. My exact comment was that it blew my mind, and now that I’m a couple weeks past the initial shock I wanted to share my thoughts on Rest, Ice, and recovery in general.  I should start this by saying that I do not consider myself to be an expert in the field.  I am merely curious about how it works, which has drawn me to gather information in an effort to educate myself.  I’m always looking for how to get the most benefit in the shortest amount of time (within the limits of rules/ethics).  First of all, let me throw up the video which was recorded by Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD.com.

26 minutes of video is a ton of information, but let me break down a couple of the key concepts along with my thoughts.

First is what I consider to be the lesser controversial of the two ideas.  That is the idea that rest does not and should not equate to immobilization.  I intend this specifically for sore and fatigued muscles, but really it goes beyond that.  I can think of dozens of examples of my friends and family making statements to the effect of getting stiff and in pain when they sit stagnant for any length of time.  This holds true with everything from former major surgeries like knee replacement to simple old age taking hold.  I also think back to the notion that when recovering from any injury or surgery it is best to move around to the extent that you are not causing pain (and thus, additional injury).  Post-surgical patients are encouraged to walk around the hospital floor as quickly as possible.  Why?  “To get the blood flowing!” is the common verbiage, but that proves to be incorrect, at least in its scientific basis.  As described by Gary Reinl and Kelly Starrett, there are actually two processes by which your body delivers nutrients and eliminates waste.  The lymphatic system actually does the heavy lifting with regard to this subject, not the circulatory system.  By getting mobile and activating the muscles around the sore area you are  encouraging and speeding up the process of getting the “garbage” out of the system and speeding nutrients in.  There is a ton of emphasis placed on post-workout nutrition, so I’m all in for ways to get the maximum benefit from it.  Overall, this concept just makes sense to me.

Now let’s tackle what I would call the biggie here.  Is Ice beneficial as a recovery tool?  Let me start by saying that I have been a huge proponent of Ice baths.  In fact, while training for my Half Marathon this summer I swore by them; spending 15 minutes submerged waist deep in 40 lbs of ice after each of my long runs after exceeding 8 miles.  I have found that when I did the ice bath, I experience less pain/soreness the following morning.  That was enough for me – that and the whole “everybody’s doing it” thing.  In my mind I was fighting the evils of inflammation, and employing every weapon in my arsenal (Ice, Omega-3’s, low inflammation diet, etc).  I say all this to lay the foundation for why Gary Reinl’s question was so simple yet profound – “Do you believe the body’s natural inflammation response is a mistake?”

I’m not trying to go off the deep end  of a religious and/or philosophical conversation about the implications of that question, so I’ll answer it as simply as I can.  No, I don’t believe that it is a mistake.  I believe that time and time again humans try to be smarter than nature, and this may be yet another example.  It makes sense if you look at the inflammatory process as natural and correct.  It is functioning to take you from sore/tired to ready to get after it again as quickly as possible.  Not only are you better served to let it run its course, but all the better if you can help speed it along.  Mobility and muscle activation ensure junk is sped out of the body and nutrients are sped in.  By applying ice you are blocking the process all together and actually causing harm by prolonging the issue.  This happens because instead of allowing the lymphatic system to carry waste away from the area, the now frozen vessels dump waste back in.  Also note that by blocking the process, you aren’t stopping it.  You can only block it for a time; once the vessels warm back up the system gets back to work and the inflammatory process resumes.  You delayed, you did not avoid.

At this point It is a combination of theory, practice, and scientific research presented in the video have been enough for me to change my routine .  I have stopped icing personally and plan to keep an eye on my recovery and the effect on future training sessions.  I think that it is always important that we “date” our ideas as opposed to “marrying” them.  When people marry their ideas they lose the ability to evaluate them rationally and make quick changes. I was “dating” my ice baths, and now I’m “dating” the notion of no ice.  I’ll try to update on how the relationship evolves.

Gary Reinl is releasing a book soon called ICED on this subject.  I don’t see it posted on Amazon yet, but I’ll be picking it up when it is released.

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