What Serious Science Says About Ice Baths

Plus, Train Your Brain A New (And Better) Way + The Latest Attempt To Explain East African Marathon Dominance

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Here’s the free but abridged version of the Run Long, Run Healthy newsletter. See the links below to subscribe to the full-text edition with more articles and deeper, more specific running advice. – Amby

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Today’s newsletter is presented by The New Hyperion Elite 4 by Brooks. Push limits, break tape, and make noise.

“Train Your Brain” A New (And Better) Way

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Here’s a delicious, memorable, and highly useful quote from coach-endurance physiologist Alan Couzens. I’d say it’s even worth printing out and sticking on your refrigerator.

It goes like this: “Your brain and your soft tissue work on very different timeframes.” You could also rephrase it as: “Listen to your body … below the neck, not above.”

Of course, there are times when the brain is a good monitor. This is especially true when it registers a high Relative Perceived Exertion for runs and other tasks that should be easy for you to perform. At these times, you need to back off.

However, many of us pay too much attention when we hear a little voice saying: “You’re not tough enough to be good.” Or, maybe: “Only the gutty survive.” Or: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

This is the voice of false narratives that we’ve somehow picked up from our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and larger social environment. We all harbor a few such narratives. But we’d be happier, healthier (and maybe faster) without them.

Couzens wants us to ignore false narratives that tell us to run more and harder despite sore muscles and achy joints. It’s an excellent message. You’ll fare much better by running less and slower. At least until your lower body tissues are fully recovered. More at Twitter/X Alan Couzens.

RELATED ARTICLE: Visualization For Runners: How To Visualize Your Running Success

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Today’s newsletter is presented by The New Hyperion Elite 4 by Brooks. Push limits, break tape, and make noise.

What Serious Science Says About Ice Baths

What Serious Science Says About Ice Baths 5400m indoor world-record holder Femke Bol, chillin’ pre-race. Photo: @trackspice

In this article, the Skeptical Inquirer Nick Tiller, PhD, takes a hard look at the exercise benefits of ice bathing. He concludes that Wim Hof and the Tik Tok crowd are promoting an activity supported by their subjective belief in the practice. Not by good evidence.

To bolster his arguments, Tiller reviews both the physiology of muscle-fiber growth through training, and the physiology of muscle recovery. He also links to 2 recent meta-analyses.

Some muscle soreness is inevitable if you exercise, especially when you’re just starting out. “Just as a rubber band becomes frayed if you continually stretch it under load, your muscles sustain minuscule tears if they’re stretched too far or exert too much force.”

Next, the muscles adapt by “laying down new structural proteins, like a construction crew assembling steel beams to support the infrastructure of a building.”

That sounds good, normal, natural, and a positive response. However, “Ice bathing fundamentally inhibits this process.” That’s why it might interfere with the very training effect you’re hoping to build through your workouts. Ice baths also blunted “the activation of key proteins and satellite cells in muscle.”

Nonetheless, in television coverage of the recent World Indoor Championships, we saw photos of world-record sprinter Femke Bol soaking her legs in an ice bath between her races. This acute practice has been supported for reduction of pain and swelling in the short term when you have to go to the start line again very soon. However, it’s not the best long-term practice.

At any rate, the many supporters of ice baths had plenty to say to Tiller on his Twitter/X feed. Especially those espousing “mental and emotional benefits.” Hey, if you think it feels good, go for it. But don’t expect to get stronger or faster. More at Skeptical Inquirer.

RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Ice Bath Benefits + What Is The Optimal Time To Stay In?

The Latest Attempt To Explain East African Marathon Dominance

Humans are good distance runners, relative to many other animals, because we’ve evolved efficient means of body heat dispersal. Most of this comes from our low body hair covering and high sweat rate.

These factors have been recognized for a long time. They’ve received more coverage since Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman published their paper, “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo,” in Nature in 2004.

I’m not sure, however, if anyone has extended this thesis to explain the marathon excellence of runners from East Africa. Are they the best Homo runners because they have the best heat-dispersing bodies?

That’s the basic claim of a modest paper in a little-known journal by several researchers from Kyrgyzstan. No, I’m not messin’ with you. This team is interested in “one poorly studied physical peculiarity of the human body, namely its heat-conducting ability.”

The authors claim to be experts in “the variability of chromosomal Q-heterochromatin regions (Q-HRs) in human populations.” They have observed, for example, that peoples living in mountainous regions have a low Q-HR, and people from high, arid regions have a high Q-HR.

Q-HR is basically a measure of “body heat conductivity.” It is notable, the new paper states, that “a sportsman with high heat conductivity cannot make much progress in mountaineering and water sports because their body cools rapidly. However, this sportsman can be more successful in sports, which require effective heat-loss.”

We all know that the marathon is, in part, a fight against rising body heat. It’s also impossible to miss the dominance of East African runners in the marathon. Specialists in exercise genetics have spent the last 30 years looking for an explanation. They’ve mostly failed.

Now we’ve got a new candidate: high body heat conductivity as measured by Q-HR. Maybe East Africans have a higher Q-HR than other groups.

The authors conclude: “Perhaps our ancestors acquired their unique ability–endurance running–when they were struggling for existence on the African savannahs.” More at Medical & Clinical Research with free full text.

​Related Article: Kenyan Hills: Your New Favorite Speed Workout

SHORT STUFF You Don’t Want To Miss

Train your gut: Can a probiotic supplement lower your risk of GI distress on the run?

HERE’S WHAT ELSE YOU WOULD HAVE RECEIVED this week if you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text edition of “Run Long, Run Healthy.” Why not give it a try? SUBSCRIBE HERE.

  • A major new study with the most compelling data yet that exercise can reduce depression and suicide
  • A surprising new tip that could help you avoid tripping and falling while running
  • What do Harvard’s best nutritionists think about plant diets and strong bones?
  • How a long “ground contact time” could boost your running economy
  • Do women get more benefit from exercise than men (the truth, this time)?
  • A simple bend-your-toes exercise that could reduce injuries
  • A useful sign to help teen runners avoid menstrual dysfunction
  • Why Dr. Peter Attia thinks exercise is more important than diet
  • An inspirational quote on pursuing the seemingly impossible from Olympian, author, TV commentator Kara Goucher

DON’T FORGET: I spend hours searching the Internet for the best, most authoritative new running articles, so you can review them in minutes.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. Amby

Photo of author
Amby Burfoot stands as a titan in the running world. Crowned the Boston Marathon champion in 1968, he became the first collegian to win this prestigious event and the first American to claim the title since John Kelley in 1957. As well as a stellar racing career, Amby channeled his passion for running into journalism. He joined Runner’s World magazine in 1978, rising to the position of Editor-in-Chief and then serving as its Editor-at-Large. As well as being the author of several books on running, he regularly contributes articles to the major publications, and curates his weekly Run Long, Run Healthy Newsletter.

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