Cold water recovery: does it actually work? And what of warm water?
In episode 83 of the Science for Sport podcast, one of the world’s leading sport performance scientists reveals the truth behind one of the most used recovery methods: ice and cold water exposure.
Ice baths and cold water recovery: Are they worth the pain?
Recovery from sport is absolutely crucial if you or your athletes want to perform optimally. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of useless contraptions on the market designed to relieve you of your money, and ultimately prevent you from recovering fully before your next big game.
In episode 83 of the Science for Sport podcast, Dr. Robin Thorpe, sport performance scientist and coach, gives you the truth behind one of the world’s most used recovery methods: cold and warm water exposure.
Have you ever sat in an ice bath, freezing your family jewels off, wondering why you even bother with this nonsense? I have, and frankly, I still had massive muscle aches the next day. If this sounds familiar there is some good news: ice baths do actually work. The bad news is, it probably didn’t need to be that cold!
Never again waste time shivering yourself into icy submission – instead heed the advice of Thorpe, who provides the exact knowledge you need to recover fully before your next big game.
Thorpe frames the conversation by suggesting there are a range of complicated methods and gizmos which the literature doesn’t support.
“When you look at the literature, a lot of these interventions and tools have been used for years and years and years. From a physiological perspective, they actually don’t do a lot,” Thorpe said.
How long and how cold do you have to go?
In fact, the former Manchester United sport scientist points out the majority of these interventions probably only provide a placebo effect.
“The main thing it seems to be is there’s a perception of improved recovery, which we know could be attributed to athlete belief effects or the placebo phenomenon.”
So what does work? Well, Thorpe’s research includes in-depth investigations into how athletes can recover faster using hot or cold baths. These methods are backed by science.
“There’s decent literature that suggests the optimal dose-response from cold water, across the research, is going to be around 10 to 12 minutes,” Thorpe said.
Ok, so you have to endure at least 10 minutes of cold to enhance the recovery process, but just how cold does it need to be?
“I think 10 to 12 minutes between eight and 12 degrees Celsius is going to be, I think, a good starting point for anyone working with athletes or for athletes themselves,” Thorpe said.
This sounds pretty attainable, right? Well, according to the good doctor, you can bin off all the icy goodness, and instead you could just fill your bath from the cold tap.
“People historically have been going out and buying absolutely tons of ice at a supermarket, they could just get a pretty decent ratio by just running the cold tap,” Thorpe said.
What about warm water before training?
So there you have it, those super chilled ice baths which turn you into a human penguin might have been missing the mark, you could have just gotten away with a 10-minute dip using the cold tap.
Thorpe goes on to discuss great details on how to use warm water before training, and how he used cold and warm water immersion in an English Premier League setting. So if you need to take your recovery game up a notch, just hit the link below!
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