Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, Edgecliff, Marrickville, Bella VistaRandwickLindfield and Balmain look at cold water immersion therapy to optimise recovery in athletes.

So what is cold water immersion or cold water therapy?

It basically involves sitting in cold water (about 10 degrees Celsius) for a period of time (around 10-15 minutes) after strenuous exercise, as it is believed it can help recovery and reduce muscular stiffness and soreness. This in turn can help speed up recovery allowing you to perform your best in the next session.

For many years this method of promoting recovery has been used in elite sport with slightly different methods such as ice packs, cold showers or cold baths. Studies show that exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, is associated with microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, which can typically lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the days after (Hohanauer et al, 2015).

A major finding in this particular study was that cold water therapy ‘significantly alleviated symptoms of DOMS in 24, 48 and 96 hours after the cooling application’ (Hohanauer et al, 2015).

Another positive effect was on the athlete’s rate of perceived exertion (RPE) after 24 hours of recovery. RPE is an individual’s own subjective rating of how hard or difficult a task is, so cold-water therapy seems to have a favourable effect post – exercise.

As there are many methods to using cold therapy, the best results are produced by a full body immersion in cold water rather than using ice packs. By targeting a greater surface area on the body, this can maximise the effect. When comparing cold water therapy to passive recovery strategies, it shows cold water therapy is more beneficial on recovery.

Based on the current research, cold water therapy would be useful for athletes when used correctly, as often they perform intense training sessions with limited recovery time between sessions. However, if not used correctly i.e. having the incorrect temperature or not spending long enough in the water, the effects may not be significant and therefore not worthwhile.

Contact Longevity Personal Training and Exercise PhysiologyDrummoyne, Edgecliff, Marrickville, Bella VistaRandwickLindfield and Balmainon 1300 964 002 to enquire today about how cold therapy might help you.

Written by Susannah Mah-Chut

References

Hohanauer et al, E., Taeymans, J., Baeyens, J., Clijsen, R. 2015. The Effect of Post-Exercise Cryotherapy on Recovery Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Plos One, 10(9).