Team-sport athletes are regularly exposed to muscle damaging exercise from both training and competition. In sports like soccer, 2 competitions can be held only days apart which may leave players at a heightened risk of inadequate recovery. Full recovery from intense competition can take between 96-120 hours post-match. Therefore, coaches are constantly looking to improve short-term recovery among their players. Cold water immersion and more recently compression garments are promising tools that may offer some benefits to reducing soreness and restoring muscle function. A recovery modality receiving greater attention from teams these days is cryotherapy. Cryotherapy involves brief (2-3 minutes) exposure to extremely cold and dry air (ranging between -110 – -195 decrees Celsius) following a training session. However, the research is unclear whether this is very effective for enhancing recovery.
A new study published in this months issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the physiological, performance and perceptual effects of a single whole body cryotherapy session. On two separate occasions, fourteen subjects performed a repeated sprint training session comprised of 15 x 30 m sprints with 60 s rest between efforts. Subjects were forced to decelerate to a complete stop within 10 m to stimulate eccentric muscle damage. Following the training sessions subjects either rested passively (control condition) or underwent whole-body cryotherapy for 2-3 minutes in a specialized chamber. Biochemical markers, peak power from a countermovement jump and perceived recovery markers were obtained before, immediately following and again 2 and 24 hours following the training session.
The results showed that at 2 and 24 hours post training, the cryotherapy condition resulted in a significantly greater testosterone response compared with control. Cortisol, testosterone/cortisol ratio, creatine kinase, peak power output and perceptual ratings of fatigue and recovery did not statistically differ between conditions. The authors speculate that the increases in testosterone observed following cryotherapy may be related to reduced inflammatory responses and enhanced sleep quality due to the cold exposure, based on previous findings. However, from the current findings, it’s difficult to conclude if adding cryotherapy as a recovery tool is worthwhile for teams. Until more compelling research becomes available, coaches should probably stick with cheaper and more accessible alternatives such as cold water immersion or compression.
Russell, M., Birch, J., Love, T., Cook, C. J., Bracken, R. M., Taylor, T., … & Wilson, L. (2016). The effects of a single whole body cryotherapy exposure on physiological, performance and perceptual responses of professional academy soccer players following repeated sprint exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research.