Ice baths have been touted as a key discipline for recovery after hard training by coaches and athletes across a multitude of athletic spaces. Whether it is a form of recovery, form of training, dietary practice, or coaching philosophy, it is incredibly important to examine the actual data in order to make ensure the practice is 1. beneficial and 2. necessary. Today, I want to examine just a handful of different professional peer reviewed scientific studies examining the negative and or neutral affects on ice baths on athletic performance and recovery.
1. Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signaling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training – A 2015 study found that cold water immersion blunted long term development in muscle to strength training.
2. Effects of cold water immersion on circulating inflammatory markers at the Kona Ironman World Championship – This study found that, “CWI (Cold Water Immersion) does not affect recovery markers 24- and 48-hours post-race (vs. CON). Overall, we determined that our short CWI protocol was not sufficient to improve recovery.
3. Is the ice bath finally melting? Cold water immersion is no greater than active recovery upon local and systemic inflammatory cellular stress in humans – This 2017 study found CWI to be no greater than active recovery for athletes in inflammatory markers.
But what about all the people that say ice baths benefit me so much? This is likely because of the up regulation in the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system that induces a heightened awareness, positive mood, and more. Studies have shown this to be beneficial for depression, mood disorders, and blunting psychological burdens.
Data is more important than feelings. Don’t blindly follow something because of your intution, consider real scientfic data before hand.