Recovery strategies are a hot topic in sports these days, and for good reason. The effects of a training program are dependent upon the athletes’ ability to recover and adapt to the stimulus. Too much training with inadequate recovery can quickly result in overreaching and an increased risk of illness and injury. One of the more traditional approaches to recovery by most team-sports is cold water immersion (i.e., the infamous ice bath). Athletes will often report increases in subjective recovery status and reduced muscle soreness after ice tubbing. Therefore, teams often provide and encourage ice tubs after training sessions. However, the misapplication of a specific recovery technique such as cold water immersion may actually impair performance depending on when and how it is used.
A new study published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Medicine investigated the effects of cold water immersion on performance and perceived recovery in rugby players. In a randomized, counter-balanced design, 8 male rugby players performed an intense rugby session followed by cold water immersion (20 mins at 8.9 degrees Celsius) or control (seated for 20 mins). Before the rugby sessions and again immediately post, post-intervention and again 12 hours later, the subjects underwent performance testing in the countermovement jump, T-test (agility) and 30 second continuous jump test. Perceived recovery status was obtained at each time point. Heart rate and sRPE was obtained for each rugby training session to control for intensity between the intervention and control protocols.
Average heart rate and RPE were not significantly different between the rugby sessions. Performance markers did not differ between groups before or immediately after the rugby sessions. However, following cold water immersion, continuous 30 s jumping and countermovement jump height was significantly decreased immediately-post compared to control. However, at 12 hours post-intervention, 30 s continuous jumping was significantly higher than control. Perceived recovery was significantly greater in the cold water immersion group compared to control at 12 hours post-intervention. Thus it appears that cold water immersion should not be used when performing repeated training sessions, or during tournament play with competitions held only hours apart. However, if the next training session or competition is at least 12 hours away, cold water immersion may be a useful method for enhancing perceived recovery and restoring physical performance.
Garcia, C. A., da Mota, G. R., & Marocolo, M. (2016). Cold Water Immersion is Acutely Detrimental but Increases Performance Post-12 h in Rugby Players. International Journal of Sports Medicine. Ahead of print.