When discussing preseason training camp with an athlete, memories of sore legs are bound to pop into their mind. One of the most popular ways that athletes try to minimize delayed-onset muscle soreness during camp is by soaking for 15-20 minutes in an ice tub after training. While athletes seem to feel better after doing the ice tubs, the research is quite conflicting in terms of whether it has any meaningful effect on preventing performance decrements or enhancing muscle recovery. Therefore, it’s unclear whether the process of filling the tubs, keeping them cool and enduring the discomfort of soaking in the ice-cold water is even worthwhile.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the effects of cold water immersion versus placebo on markers of recovery status among elite male volley ball players. Twelve players were matched for physical characteristics and randomly split into a cold water immersion group and a placebo group. The placebo group were exposed to a fake LED recovery treatment and both groups were assured that both techniques were each very effective for improving recovery. This was done to eliminate any preconceived bias of the interventions. Over a 5-day period during preseason training, subjects performed their recovery intervention after daily training sessions that involved muscle damaging exercises. Performance markers and perceptual recovery markers were evaluated daily over the 5-day period. Blood and saliva markers (muscle damage, inflammation, testosterone and cortisol) were obtained before and after the 5-day period.
The results showed that performance markers (i.e., countermovement jump) decreased from day 1 to day 2 in the placebo group but returned to baseline levels throughout the remainder of the training period. Performance did not substantially change for the immersion group. Perceived soreness and muscle damage (creatine kinase) increased across time similarly for both groups. Thigh circumference increased in the placebo group, but not for the immersion group. Inflammatory markers did not substantially differ between groups across time. Hormonal responses were more favorable for the immersion group, with lower cortisol and a better testosterone to cortisol ratio than placebo. From these results, it appears that while cold water immersion may prevent edema in the thighs and negative endocrine responses, it does not appear to meaningfully impact performance in the short term.
Freitas VH, et al. Effect of cold water immersion performed on successive days on physical performance, muscle damage, and inflammatory, hormonal, and oxidative stress markers in volleyball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research¸ In press.