Coldwater immersion (CWI) has been around for many years and been used for recovery and injury prevention/treatment. It seems recently to be growing in popularity, y, with people making home-made versions for their gardens. Even though CWI has been used for years there is still little or conflicting research in the understanding of the mechanisms involved and the effect it has on recovery and repeated performance.
Research has shown that CWI is useful for maintaining repeat performance in hot environments, reducing muscle soreness, aiding recovery from secondary muscle damage which can occur after high-intensity exercise, but there is still a lack of understanding surrounding the optimal temperature, immersion depth and number/frequency of immersions.
Some studies have shown that CWI has no benefit or that it is even detrimental to performance recovery. What can be the reason behind these discrepancies?
Some of the reasons for this can be that the studies had:
- Different water temperature
- Different types of athletes, endurance compared to shorter events or power event athletes
- Duration of immersion and type, full-body, partial body or a specific limb
- Fat percentage and/or muscle percentage of the athlete.
- How high or low the athlete’s temperature was before getting immersed
As you can see there are many factors that can determine if CWI is right for you. In fairness, this is just like everything else in the world of training. One size does not fit all, just like nutrition, training, sleep and everything that athletes need.
Here is some pointer for using CWI taken from the research that has been done.
- The optimal temperature seems to be between 10 – 20 degrees for 5-15mins for a single immersion or 1-5mins at a time for multiple immersions.
- CWI performed by being submerged to the hips or shoulders is better than single limb immersion.
- If your goal is hypertrophy, then there is evidence that shows CWI after training blocks this process.
- CWI is more beneficial for the recovery of endurance athletes rather than a short session. If you are doing a multi-event competition do not use CWI before doing a power event.
- Youth and master athletes may need less time immersed due to the body being less tolerant to cold water exposer.
- Females tend to do better at the higher water temperature for shorter periods of time and males at the lower temperature for longer periods.
Like everything, if you use CWI then you should keep track of your recovery and your training numbers to see if there is really any difference.
Vaile J, Halson S, Gill N, Dawson B. Effect of hydrotherapy on recovery from fatigue. Int J Sports Med. 2008c;29(7):539-544.
Ingram J, Dawson B, Goodman C, Wallman K, Beilby J. Effect of water immersion methods on post-exercise recovery from simulated team sport exercise. J Sci Med Sport. 2009;12(3):417-421.
Montgomery PG, Pyne DB, Hopkins WG, Dorman JC, Cook K, Minahan CL. The effect of recovery strategies on physical performance and cumulative fatigue in competitive basketball. J Sports Sci. 2008;26(11):1135-1145.
Eston R, Peters D. Effects of cold water immersion on the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. J Sports Sci. 1999;17(3):231-238.
Howatson G, Goodall S, van Someren KA. The influence of cold water immersions on adaptation following a single bout of damaging exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009;105(4):615-621.
Paddon-Jones DJ, Quigley BM. Effect of cryotherapy on muscle soreness and strength following eccentric exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1997;18:588-593.
Sellwood KL, Brukner P, Williams D, Nicol A, Hinman R. Ice-water immersion and delayedonset muscle soreness: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(6):392-397.
Crowe MJ, O’Connor D, Rudd D. Cold water recovery reduces anaerobic performance. Int J Sports Med. 2007;28(12):994-998.
Schniepp J, Campbell TS, Powell KL, Pincivero DM. The effects of cold-water immersion on power output and heart rate in cyclists. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16(4):561-566.