AISTS MEDICINE PODCAST #67
Effectiveness of Cold Water Immersions on recovery post-exercise
This episode discusses the effectiveness of Cold Water Immersions on recovery post-exercise. This AISTS Sport Medicine podcast is created together with AISTS Class of 2020 Juan Lopez Salaberry and Eric Mackenzie, a former professional Australian football player to share his experience and knowledge about this topic.
The AISTS Sport Medicine podcast is supervised by Professor Boris Gojavonic, MD.
Juan: Good morning from Lausanne, the Olympic capital of the world, and welcome to the AISTS Med podcast. I’m your host Juan Lopez Salaberry and today we are discussing the effectiveness of Cold Water Immersions on recovery post-exercise. Made popular by Wim-Hof, and having tried it myself as an amateur long-distance triathlete, Ice-baths are used by athletes from a wide range of sports, including runners, cyclists, football players, formula 1 drivers, and more. Today we have with us Eric Mackenzie, a former professional Australian football player, to check-in on his experience and knowledge about this topic.
Eric: Thank you Juan.
Juan: Eric, welcome. It feels like there are many voices in different directions about this. What’s your
Eric: One thing I don’t miss about being a professional athlete is the ice bins after training and
games. While they always made me feel great, they often became a chore. During summer, they
were nice to cool down but in winter it was hard to motivate myself to jump in. Ever since I first walked in the door at WCE, we were shown where to get the ice and how to fill up the rubbish bins to stand in. It was almost like a right of passage, the rookies would do it for the senior players. This changed over my 12 years as we went from 3 rubbish bins to inground “spas” that maintained a constant temperature for us.
Juan: We actually went out and asked 100 athletes how they were recovering, whether they use Ice Baths and what they thought of its benefits.
- 75% of them have taken Ice baths.
- Two-thirds of them recognize the benefits as far as the next day but the other third is not sure about when or if those benefits actually kick in.
- Up to 38% of the people who use these techniques do so by the advice of their coach or PT, while up to 10% have expressed giving it a shot after having done research about its benefits.
- Other popular recovery techniques include Stretching Active Recovery, foam rollers, massages and the use of compression equipment.
Surprisingly, the results were consistent for both pros and amateurs. Eric, Why do these athletes use CWI aside from being told to do it by their coaches?
Eric: It is commonly believed that cold water immersion therapy can:
- Reduce oedemas which are bruises & bleeds by altering localised blood flow and heart rate
- Decrease the perception of pain associated with muscular soreness, along with reducing muscle spasms and damage while reducing tissue inflammation
- They also decrease the perception of fatigue
- Decrease core temperature
- And finally ice baths can improve the range of motion
Juan: Sounds like an extensive list of benefits; what are they caused by?
- Vasoconstriction which is the constriction of blood vessels
- Analgesic or pain-relieving effect
- Reducing inflammatory pathways
- Placebo effect which we will touch on further later
- Hydrostatic pressure or the effect of the water pressure on the body
Juan: Ok so far it feels like CWI is pretty good for recovery – what protocol should I use?
Eric: Often ice baths are done in rubbish bins with bags of ice so it is hard to control the temperature
outside of laboratory conditions.
There are many different protocols used for ice baths in the research. For optimum results it is
- Temp should be ~ 11 °C research says anywhere between 10-15°C
- Duration should be a minimum of 10 mins with between 11-15mins recommended
- It is important to be as deep as possible in the water as this increases the hydrostatic pressure which assists the vasoconstriction. It’s best up to the shoulders but find a depth that you can stay in for 10min minimum.
Juan: Is that it Eric? Should we all be jumping into iced bins?
Eric: Not so fast, there is another school of thought out there that the science behind CWI doesn’t
back up the subjective data.
The type of exercise done prior to the recovery session also has an impact on the effectiveness
of the recovery technique.
- Ice baths during recovery from resistance training lowers the muscle to take up and direct dietary protein-derived amino acids.
- In addition, when applied consistently Ice baths during recovery from resistance training lowers myofibrillar protein synthesis rates during more prolonged resistance training and, as such, may reduce skeletal muscle conditioning.
Juan: Hold on there, you are losing me, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
- Really, if you go to the gym then ice bins may be limiting the gains from your sessions.
- On the other hand, Ice Baths may benefit endurance signalling pathways and the expression of genes key to mitochondrial biogenesis following a single endurance session, but have little to no effect on these following long-term endurance training.
- Or in simple terms for endurance athletes, Ice Baths may be beneficial in the short term, but over the long term the results are inconclusive.
Eric: So, it seems we have those on the “for” and those against it… what should we do?
Juan: Well, we also have those on the fence about it. Despite its ability to improve recovery, the underpinning psycho-physiological responses of Ice Baths as a recovery method are still not fully understood.
- Scientific studies using subjective measures have shown that there are benefits of doing Ice Baths as a form of recovery; these include
- reduced muscle soreness score
- and lower rating of perceived exertion
- However, the objective factors post-exercise are less apparent and therefore question the mechanisms responsible for the subjective results.
This is why there are many studies that suggest that using a placebo has the same impact on recovery as CWI.
Juan: Thank you Eric.
My biggest takeaway is that It feels like there isn’t a “one size fits all” response. Studies are showing results in two different training scenarios, typically separating endurance from resistance training. While the consensus seems to indicate that CWI might be beneficial to recovery for the prior, there is evidence showing that individuals aiming to improve skeletal muscle conditioning should reconsider applying cooling as a part of their post-exercise recovery strategy. Having said that, there’s also a recurring mention of a placebo effect that can be, throughout the studies as effective as the colder treatment.
Eric, my guess is that we haven’t seen the end of this discussion.
Thank you for tuning in to another episode of our AISTS MED Podcast.
You can find more AISTS Sport Medicine podcast on our Soundcloud channel or on the Apple Podcast app. To learn more about the AISTS Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration and Technology, visit https://aists.org/education/master-in-sport-management/