By Dan McCarthy//Naitonal Team High Performance Consultant | Monday, December 21, 2015
Some teams fill a hotel bathtub with ice water, others use a kiddie-pool. The USA Swimming National Team has a mobile ice bath system which circulates and cools the water. Using an ice bath for recovery (or Cold Water Immersion as it is known in the literature) is one of those practices with vocal supporters and critics. There are things Cold Water Immersion can do and things that it cannot. The key to perhaps gaining an advantage from Cold Water Immersion is knowing the best way to use it.
Research suggests that Cold Water Immersion may help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) after intense exercise, and in turn may improve sleep quality as well. Cold Water Immersion cannot reverse muscle tissue damage; nor can it increase red blood cell count or speed the synthetization of protein into muscle tissue. Its best use is to help decrease the discomfort and pain associated with muscle-damaging training and competition.
There are only two guidelines for using Cold Water Immersion:
The water should be between 12-15 degrees Celsius (53.6-59 degrees Fahrenheit)
The ideal time in the tub is between 5-10 minutes
It seems as if Cold Water Immersion is a detriment to performance when used between all out efforts. Hopping in 55 degree water between repeats or events at the same session will likely lead to slower times. Intermittent treatments (in and out every minute for six to ten minutes) hasn’t proven to be useful; and the jury is still out on colder or warmer temperatures. Finally, forcing someone to use an ice bath, especially with no prior experience, is likely to have a negative result.
Cold Water Immersion is part of a holistic approach to recovery. Sleep, quality nutrition, proper hydration and an uninterrupted cool-down period are the cornerstones for recovering from intense training and competition. Massage, compression and Cold Water Immersion are part of the plan, but cannot take the place of, or compromise any of the cornerstone practices. Given adequate time and reliable resources, Cold Water Immersion could improve current recovery protocols by contributing to the reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness.