Is Cold Water Hindering Your Gains?

Have you ever done things as part of your training that you’ve changed?

I guess I should re-phrase that.

Are there parts of your training process that you look back on now and realize it to be wrong?

That’s not an easy thing to do. And I don’t mean that it’s hard to recognize mistakes we’ve made. Instead it’s hard to acknowledge that we were wrong. It’s hard to admit we weren’t right.

But that happens. And it’s process of the progression of the training process. As better information becomes available it’s only natural that we adopt the correct information and update programming accordingly.

I’m trying to think of examples and the one that comes to mind is recognizing the value of a dynamic warm-up before activity. It used to be people would static stretch as part of their warm-up and jump straight into training.

Imagine going to the start line of 10 km race. Very few racers, especially the contenders, will be on the ground holding static stretches for prolonged periods of time.

Rarely will you see this at the start line of a running race.

Rarely will you see this at the start line of a running race.

What you’re more likely to see is athletes warming up with motion. They will be doing skip drills, leg swings or some other time of activity to loosen up, warm up, activate the core and stabilizers while stimulating the nervous system.

Warming up with butt kicks.

Warming up with butt kicks.

Along the lines of looking into the rear-view mirror to see areas of training that have changed there’s one that involves recovery.

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of athletes sitting in ice tubes after training sessions to enhance the recovery process. We believed that the ice bath would help with the inflammation response that followed a training session. The cold temperatures would constrict vessels and decrease blood flow to areas of the body where a training stress had been implied.

Seems plausible enough. But what does the science say?

Fortunately for us a colleague, Bret Contreras, wrote a great post on his blog looking at the effects of cold water immersion (CWI) following a training session.

While Bret referenced a number of studies the main one he focussed on was recently published this summer in the Journal of Physiology. There were a number of key finding from this study including:

Finding: Cold water immersion lessens gains in muscle mass and strength.

Implications: If you are someone looking to add lean body mass (muscle) or get stronger, sitting in a ice-bath after training may reduce the gains you will realize.

Finding: CWI limited the expressions of proteins and markers associated with hypertrophy and muscular strength.

Implications: Sitting in an ice bath after training limits the expression of specific proteins needed for an increase in muscular size and strength.

So what does this all mean?

Well if you’re an athlete or individual looking to get bigger or stronger you should probably skip the ice bath after training. There may be times when ice, CWI and cold therapy is warranted for example with acute injuries and intense aerobic training sessions. Otherwise there may be more beneficial and definitely more comfortable ways to recover from a training session.



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