With many sports teams, the emphasis on training and conditioning far exceeds the importance placed on recovery. Most educated coaches however, are aware that positive physical adaptations take place only when sufficient rest and recovery ate attained. Few coaches outside of elite sport levels prescribe recovery modalities apart from perhaps some active recovery thrown in post exercise. However, there is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of passive recovery interventions, such as contrast water therapy, for accelerating recovery and performance in athletes. Unfortunately, many coaches and teams do not have access to facilities that can accommodate this type of intervention following training or competition, likely explaining its lack of widespread usage. Finding more practical ways of prescribing recovery modalities like this can go a long way in keep our athletes feeling fresh.
A recent study from July issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of traditional contrast water therapy with a more practical method that most athletes can perform at home in their shower. A team of ten elite female netballers were randomly assigned one of 3 recovery interventions following 3 training sessions on different weeks. There was a traditional contrast water therapy group who alternated between warm and cold water tubs each minute for 14 minutes. There was a contrast shower group that performed that same routine, except they used a shower as opposed to being completely submerged in a tub. Lastly, there was a control group that sat in a climate controlled room for 20 minutes. These recovery interventions took place following a netball circuit that involved various stations of short sprints, plyos, agility, lateral and backward running, etc. The same circuit was performed at the same time of day for each intervention. Perceived ratings of fatigue as well as a repeated agility test specific to netball activity were taken before, after and at 5 and 24 hours post training.
The results showed that neither recovery condition had an effect on repeated agility performance. In other words, contrast water or shower therapy was not effective at improving physical performance verses the control group. However, perceptions of recovery were significantly higher in both experimental groups compared to control. The main finding of this study was that contrast showers similarly (no statistical difference) improved the perceptions of recovery compared to traditional contrast water therapy performed in a cold and warm tubs.
If contrast water or shower therapy had no effect on performance, is it even worthwhile? This is a valid question worth addressing. Coaches sometimes forget about the human element of sport that focuses on the athlete’s well being. Performance, compliance, effort, desire to train/play is largely impacted by psychological factors. The perceptual benefits of contrast therapy observed in this study and elsewhere should not be dismissed as being useless. Keep our athletes feeling fresh and recovered is vital to making it through long competitive seasons. Following intense training or competition, athletes may benefit from performing contrast shower therapy in the locker room or back at their own home. A 14 minute protocol alternating each minute between warm (38 degrees Celsius) and cold (18 degrees Celsius) appears to be an effective approach for improving perceived recovery.
Juliff, LE., et al. (2014) Influence of contrast shower and water immersion on recovery in elite netballers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(8):2353-2358