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Tuesday, 30 June 2015 13:04 PM BST
Ice baths to rescue as players feel heat
Andy and Jamie Murray swear by ice baths to reinvigorate aching limbs. Sarah Edworthy dips an arm into Wimbledon's high-tech recovery aids to see just how cold they are. READ MORE

The heatwave enveloping London has us all dreaming of a refreshing dip in ice-cold water, but a proper ice bath – technically a ‘cryospa’, and not so much refreshing as a painfully numbing but ultimately invigorating experience – was always going to be a reality for the players at the 2015 Championships.

Wimbledon is the first Grand Slam to install ice bath facilities. Six tall, white, upright baths stand ready to receive hot and sore muscled limbs in the new improved competitors’ facilities (three for the ladies, three for the gentlemen) plus two further baths in the Aorangi practice area. Their introduction is proving popular. On Day 1, roughly a third of the competitors on site used the Millennium building facility, with the last player in at 10.10pm after a final game on a show court.

As they are post-exercise recovery aids, the ice baths stand quiet all morning. From 2pm until an hour after close of play, there is a steady stream of takers and a surprisingly social air in a room most us would regard as a torture chamber.

Forget all images of a standard home tub filled with ice cubes, like a makeshift drinks cooler at a student party. These cryospas are state-of-the-art machines which require players to climb up three steps then slide down into a standing tub of chilled water set at 8C, 10C and 12C so that players can pick their preferred degree of pain.

Neoprene socks are provided to prevent feet becoming too cold (which may be intolerably painful). Opposite each machine is a bench so that the player’s physio and fitness team can chat to them and help distract from the numbing discomfort. The Murray brothers are both known fans. 

Your intrepid reporter has not only immersed an arm hot from the keyboard into the 8C bath and can vouch for the horribly bitter-sweet exhilaration the treatment induces in a limb, but also witnessed Andy happily standing in a post-practice ice bath and noted 10C was his preferred setting. The odd childhood swim in a Scottish loch would have been perfect preparation.

Ice baths are endured as part of post-match recovery and here’s how they work. Elite-level tennis is gruelling on players’ muscles, tendons, bones, nerves and tissues in the lower body; the muscles between hips, knees and ankles can get violently stretched and damaged. When, say, Murray gets into an ice bath – and he is such a fan, he has one at home - the glacial water causes his blood vessels to tighten and drain the blood out of his legs, removing lactic acid build-up. When he clambers out, his legs fill up with ‘new’ blood that invigorates his muscles with oxygen to aid recovery.

The water is filtered and chlorinated. Forty-two jets keep the water swirling through a chiller unit so that the water is kept at a consistent temperature despite the body heat generated by the player. It’s the aquatic equivalent of a wind-chill factor and it takes heat away from muscles quickly. Standing up is important because it adds 1.4 metres of water pressure, which is the equivalent of wrapping the lower body in a medical grade bandage.

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Being Wimbledon, the ice bath room – complete with shower facilities to wash off physio massage oils before immersion – comes with recommended protocols to minimise muscle soreness, reduce inflammation and markers of muscle damage. Post-game, an immersion of 6-10 minutes is considered optimum; post-training, 4-8 minutes is suggested. Some players prefer the ‘contrast’ method, alternating between the ice bath and a warm shower. In this case, the suggested protocol is a one-minute warm shower/two minutes icy water, through three to five rotations.

While spectators ponder the 'ice and slice' in their Pimm's, the phrase means something altogether different for players in their zone of perfect grass-court preparation.