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Friday, June 5, 2015

Cold water immersion for recovery: is it all in our mind?

greekamericannewsagency.com


Cold water immersion is a very popular strategy for recovery after exercise. Although there is evidence on its benefits on perception of fatigue no consensus exists on its effect on performance. In addition, many studies show no effect of this strategy on physiological functions. Part of the confusion might be due to the studies' design. Indeed, most studies have not used a placebo condition and this could have affected the conclusion and hence the practical applications.

The study of Broatch et al (2014) investigated if the placebo effect is responsible for any acute performance and psychological benefit of postexercise cold water immersion. Following a high-intensity interval session, the participants followed one of the 3 following recovery conditions i) cold water immersion at 10 oC, ii) thermoneutral water immersion placebo (34.7 oC), iii) thermoneutral water immersion control (34.7 oC). 

Their conclusion was that a recovery placebo administered after high-intensity exercise was as effective as cold water immersion in the recovery of muscle strength over 48 hours. In addition, both the cold water and the thermoneutral immersion placebo resulted in faster recovery of strength compared with the control condition.

This study shows that at least part of any benefit of cold water immersion is due to a placebo effect.


How this study might affect practice?

  • Postexercise water immersion even at around 30 oC may produce similar performance improvements compared to cold water immersion provided we lead athletes believe that thermoneutral water immersion is beneficial on performance recovery.
  • Medical & sports science staff should not be so concerned about the water temperature itself. 
  • Thermoneutral water immersion is more comfortable to athletes and this should be taken into consideration when planning a recovery strategy.


Some concerns

  • This study examined the recovery of muscle strength. We don't know what might happen with the application of the same recovery strategy on other performance parameters such as speed, repeated sprints ability and endurance.


Source
Broatch et al (2014). Med Sci Sports Exerc, 46(11):2139-47.


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