Does Cold Water Recovery Work For Triathletes?
One of the biggest debates out there in the triathlon world is the effect of cold water therapy on post-workout recovery. Some will stand by it as the best post-workout cure, while others are sceptical about the effects of cold water on your body. We investigated all of the best scientific research out there to find some answers. These studies usually compared cold-water recovery vs active recovery.
What is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy refers to the act of submerging oneself in 10-15° C water for a few minutes after a rigorous workout. More and more triathletes are submerging themselves in cold water after especially tough runs and cycles.
Why use cold water therapy?
One of the main reasons for such a method is that post-workout recovery is crucial for reducing fatigue and for improving subsequent workouts and performances. Increasingly, athletes are looking towards cold water as a means to improve recovery and boost ensuing performances.
The main, alleged, purpose of cold-water recovery is to reduce skeletal inflammation and cellular stress in the muscle fibres. The constriction of blood vessels - caused by the cold water - is also theorised to constrict blood vessels and thus flush out post-training waste products such as lactic acid.
Several studies from the US National Center for Biotechnology Information compared the effects of cold water therapy 2, 24 and 48 h during recovery after acute resistance exercise. Several studies compared cold water therapy to active therapy. The cold water therapy used common cold water treatment products such as iCoolsport baths. Whereas, the active recovery had participants perform low resistance, cool-down exercises such as light cycling.
Of all the current studies available, non had a large enough sample range to produce conclusive results. One of the studies, which compared cold water therapy with active recovery, found no significant difference between the two. All of the other, current, studies were unable to find conclusive results too.
However, when paired with already recommended recovery methods, there were positive results. Nevertheless, it is yet to be confirmed whether this correlation implies causation.
Some of the recommended recovery methods include:
- Sufficient rest to allow for natural recovery to occur,
- Gentle stretching that helps the muscle to recover faster,
- A necessary cool-down period versus stopping immediately and abruptly,
- A proper balanced diet,
- Adequate fluid replacement,
- And a proper massage
We, at ZEN8, recommend finding the recovery method which works best for you. If cold water therapy improves your recovery and subsequent performance, then you should go for it.
1. R. Allan and C. Mawhinney (2017), ''Is the ice bath finally melting? Cold water immersion is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans''. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5350472/>
2. F. Lateef (2010), ''Post exercise ice water immersion: Is it a form of active recovery?''. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938508/>
3. J. Peake, et al. (2017), ''The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise''. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5285720/>