What’s Better For Recovery From Strength Training? Whole Body Cryotherapy, Cold Water Immersion, or Placebo.

In our post on compression garments and recovery, we brought up the potential role of the placebo effect which sparked some questions and commentary.

Adding a little more to the placebo/recovery discussion, in a new study from Wilson, et al. 2019 compared the effects of cold water immersion (CWI), whole body cryotherapy (WBC) or a placebo (PL) intervention on recovery markers after a resistance training session.

Although a single training session does not reflect the everyday workload demands placed upon competitive athletes, there was substantial enough effect on the recovery markers used following the single training session to directly compare the three interventions.

What did they do?
24 males with a minimum training age of 12 months were matched into CWI (10mins at 10 degrees Celcius), WBC ( 3 and 4 mins at – 85 degrees Celcius) or PL group and performed a high volume lower body resistance training session at 80% of predicted 1RM.

Recovery markers were assessed before and after at 24, 48, and up to 72 hours post-exercise including ”Perceptions of soreness and training stress, markers of muscle function, inflammation and efflux of intracellular proteins.”

What happened?
The single training session did cause the expected perceptual soreness and muscle function disturbance with WBC managing to attenuate soreness at 24hrs and positively influencing peak force at 48 hrs post, greater than in CWI pr PL group. This has been a consistent finding in the literature to date: Stanley et al. 2012; Leeder et al. 2011; Versey et al. 2013; andRoberts et al. 2014.
It should be noted however that the WBC temperatures used in the study (- 85 degrees Celcius) were higher than those typically suggested (-110 to 140 degrees Celcius) possibly influencing results.

Aside from this small difference, it appears that ”many of the remaining outcomes were trivial, unclear or favoured the PL condition.”

The study concluded that while WBC may perform slightly better on some recovery indices following a single resistance training session, overall neither WBC or CWI performed better than the placebo treatment at accelerating recovery.

Readers should be aware that we are still not aware of the chronic effects of cold water therapies and that some research has suggested it can negatively interfere with vascular and muscular adaptations from resistance and endurance training while CWI has shown some small benefits for recovery from endurance protocols.

Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness, located in Surry Hills in the Sydney CBD area. danny@centralperformance.com.au


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