SOURCE: American Council on Exercise (ACE)
San Diego, July 9, 2018—A long-standing practice of athletes has been post-workout ice baths to aid recovery – but do they actually work? American Council on Exercise (ACE), the leading certifier of exercise professionals and health coaches, sponsored a three-part scientific study aimed at identifying whether timing and duration of cold water immersion impacts recovery for regular exercisers and athletes alike.
The research team, led by Lance Dalleck, Ph.D, at Western State Colorado University, evaluated if both the length of time between exercise and cold water immersion and the amount of time spent in cold water immersion impacted recovery. It also examined extended effects of regular cold water immersion on training programs.
The Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Recovery and Performance
To test the effects of duration and timing of cold water immersion, participants completed four different testing sessions in random order with at least 96 hours in between sessions. Each session consisted of the same workouts performed on back-to-back days, followed by study participants completing one of these four cold water immersion protocols:
- A control session with no cold water immersion
- 10 minutes of cold water immersion immediately following exercise
- 10 minutes of cold water immersion two hours after exercise
- 20 minutes of cold water immersion immediately following exercise
Each cold water immersion session involved study participants sitting up to their clavicles in 55-degree water. All of the participants in the study led sedentary lifestyles and hadn’t performed resistance training for at least six months prior.
The Short-Term Results of Cold Water Immersion
To maintain exercise endurance and power performance on day two of back-to-back workouts, The study found post-exercise cold water immersion to be a more efficient recovery strategy compared to no immersion. In each recovery session that included cold water immersion, there was virtually no reduction in endurance or power on the second day of testing, while recovery without cold water immersion resulted in decreased endurance and performance.
Additionally, the study showed that the three protocols with cold water immersion were equally effective recovery strategies, whether the immersion was performed for 10 or 20 minutes directly after exercise, or 10 minutes completed two hours after exercise.
“The results of this study support the use of cold water immersion as an effective recovery strategy – even up to two hours after exercise,” says Todd Galati, ACE senior director of science and research. “This flexibility offers all exercisers – not just high-level athletes – more opportunity to fit cold water immersion into a busy lifestyle.”
Does Cold Water Immersion Affect Long-Term Recovery and Performance?
To test the chronic effects of cold water immersion on exercise performance, participants completed six weeks of a standardized exercise program. Half of the participants performed ten minutes of cold water immersion immediately following each workout while the others did no immersion after exercise. Researchers performed measurements of health, fitness and exercise performance before and after the six weeks to evaluate the results.
Participants in both groups showed similar improvements in their measurements after the six-week training program, with no significant differences between the two groups’ results. These findings suggest that cold water immersion does not diminish the positive results of regular exercise participation.
The Main Takeaways of Cold Water Immersion as a Recovery Strategy
- Cold water immersion appears to be a time-efficient means of recovery that helps preserve performance from one workout to the next.
- Comparable results are achieved in 10 minutes of cold water immersion as in 20 minutes.
- Cold water immersion appears to be effective up to two hours after a workout.
- Ongoing use of cold water immersion supports favorable training results.
To view the complete details of these studies, please click here. To learn more about American Council on Exercise and its mission to get all people moving, please visit www.acefitness.org.
The American Council on Exercise is a nonprofit organization with global reach that works to improve physical-activity levels by certifying exercise professionals and health coaches, publishing original research, convening experts on physical activity and health, working directly with community groups, and advocating for policies to get people from all walks of life moving. The 80,000 exercise professionals and health coaches certified by ACE are among the most respected in the world of fitness, helping people embrace physical activity and adopt healthier lifestyles. For more information, call 800-825-3636 or visit ACEfitness.org. AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE, ACE and ACE logos are Registered Trademarks of the American Council on Exercise.