How do you recover from an intense workout?
If you’re a bodybuilder, your post-workout routine probably includes a protein shake filled with amino acids to improve muscle growth and plenty of carbs to restore burned energy. Hopefully, you include plenty of rest time after an intense workout, as that will ensure your body can make the repairs to the damaged muscle tissue.
Here’s a new trick to speed up post-workout recovery: cold water immersion. According to one study, it can be a useful tool to help repair your body effectively!
A 2016 study examined the effects of cold water immersion on 20 healthy adults, all of whom completed a bout of lower body resistance training. After the training was complete, the participants were assigned at random to either cold water immersion therapy or a passive recovery phase (resting, without stretching or movement).
The researchers paid close attentions to the effects both types of recovery had on the body. Specifically, they monitored muscle oxygenation, muscle performance, skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle soreness.
The recovery period lasted for 10 minutes, after which time the participants underwent another identical bout of resistance training. This gave the researchers a chance to see which of the two recovery methods had the greatest effect on performance and other metrics.
The group that underwent the cold water immersion therapy showed visible improvement over the passive recovery group:
They had a significantly lower heart rate
Their body temperature was visibly lower
They reported less muscle soreness 24 hours after the workout period
Tissue oxygenation reduction was attenuated
Simply put, the cold water immersion therapy had visible effects on the bodies of the treatment group. Even though muscular performance didn’t change with the cold water, their bodies were less affected and recovered more quickly from the training.
The metabolic effects of cold water immersion therapy make it a useful tool to consider in post-workout treatment. If you want to speed up healing and reduce soreness and inflammation, it may be a good idea to use cold water immersion after your intense workout. A few minutes of freezing your butt off in an ice bath can do wonders to hasten recovery!
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Cold water immersion therapy has been studied extensively for its short-term effects (after just one workout), but one study looked at the long-term effects of this treatment. The results were shocking: it can actually REDUCE adaptive response to exercise!
An April 2018 study examined the long-term effects of the cold water immersion therapy, not just on one workout, but on the human body over the course of weeks or months of regular use. They found that “CWI may blunt resistance signaling pathways following a single exercise session, as well as attenuate key long-term resistance training adaptations such as strength and muscle mass.”
When you lift heavy, the weight and repetition of your exercises causes miniscule tears in the muscle fiber. Your body repairs the damage and increases muscle size so it can store more energy for the next time you lift heavy weights. Over time, your body adapts to more and more weight, so you get stronger. This is what is known as “resistance training adaptation”.
However, according to the study, cold water therapy could actually STOP your body from adapting to resistance training.
The study said, “CWI may augment endurance signaling pathways and the expression of genes key to mitochondrial biogenesis following a single endurance exercise session, but have little to no effect on the content of proteins key to mitochondrial biogenesis following long-term endurance training.”
The cold water therapy could actually alter the way your cells send signals around your body, and reduce the long-term adaptation to your training. Over time, this could decrease the effectiveness of your workouts and inhibit the results of your efforts.
If you’re going to use cold water immersion therapy to speed up post-workout recovery, it’s critical that you keep in mind the long-term effects. Using it regularly could actually impair your body’s adaptation to resistance training.
The key is to use it occasionally rather than after every workout. Use it after an intense workout that caused a lot of muscle damage, and it can help to reduce soreness and speed up recovery. Try using it once every week or two, and you can enhance muscle repair without impairing resistance training adaptation in the long-term.
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