Cold Water Immersion (CWI) – A Useful Technique for Recovery?

Cold Water Immersion (CWI) – A Useful Technique for Recovery?


If you have played some sort of higher level team sport you may have dabbled in this potential recovery strategy before, as it seems that team trainers, therapists and coaches HIGHLY recommend its use.

In Layman’s terms, CWI is essentially diving into an ice cold or slightly chilled shoulder high basin of water for a limited period of time following a workout, game or some other form of intense exercise.

The question that now enters my mind is…..


CWI sounds absolutely terrible! However, there has to be some reason why athletes are doing it… RIGHT?

Well, it has been suggested that CWI is competent in combatting a variety of “things” that may impede or limit your recovery, from reducing inflammation to decreasing muscle soreness.  


Well.. In 2015, Roberts and colleagues conducted two studies regarding CWI. One took groups of well trained men, split them up and placed them in a 12 week strength training program. Following each session, you were either prescribed 10 minutes of CWI OR Active Recovery (Stationary Biking).

Strength Measurement Pre and Post Training

Muscle Mass Pre and Post Training

Oddly  enough, the group performing Active Recovery (ACT) saw greater strength and hypertrophy gains as both of these figures showcase.

These findings would indicate rather substantial effects on long term muscle mass and strength gains if using CWI!


Roberts’ other study took a group of trained men who performed single leg exercise where muscle biopsies were taken before training and 2, 24 and 48 hours after.  The benefit of muscle biopsies allow researchers to measure various physiological markers within muscle.

Specifically satellite cells (muscle cell precursors) and a variety of enzymes were found to be suppressed in the M-tor pathway, which manages Muscle Protein Synthesis (Muscle Building).

What Does This Mean?

Yes, this suppression was an acute response after exercise which is arguably not detrimental BUT! over a period of time this becomes an issue.

Muscle protein synthesis suppression post exercise on a consistent basis has shown to decrease strength and hypertrophy gains.


1.) CWI can be quite detrimental to muscle size and strength gains overtime (based on a 12 week study).

2.) Suppression of the muscle protein synthesis pathway can result in smaller strength and size gains.


Peake et al (2016) looked at the effects of CWI and Active Recovery on inflammation and cellular stress responses in active men following a period of resistance training. Following bouts of exercise, humans exhibit a normal transient pro-inflammatory response where various physiological markers increase in an attempt to combat damage to muscle and cellular stress. CWI and Active Recovery’s effects on these markers were measured. One measure in particular is Creatine Kinase (CK), an enzyme that increases in response to muscle damage.

This figure indicated that over 48 hours post exercise that levels of CK are elevated in both CWI and Active Recovery modalities. To suggest that CWI is better than Active Recovery is conflicting.



1.) CWI is as, if not, no more effective than Active Recovery at reducing inflammatory markers following resistance training.

SO WHAT!… This Research Was Done Following Exercise In The Weight-room..

What about after Games or Competitions?

Well, a 2017 Meta-Analysis by Higgins et al analyzed 23 peer reviewed articles regarding the topic and recovery after games, competitions and meets. The conclusive finding was that CWI does in fact lead to an acute reduction in perceived feeling of muscle soreness and fatigue; however, this has not been shown in the research to result in better performance or recovery.

One Consideration…

The PLACEBO EFFECT must be examined as it could influence athlete’s perceptions. If they feel as though CWI will work, it could explain the lower perceived soreness and fatigue.


1.) CWI can reduce perception of soreness and fatigue up to 24 hours after game, competition or meet but this research cannot confirm the benefit on performance or physiological recovery.

Take Home Points:

1.) CWI should be reconsidered as a recovery tool following resistance training and sporting events.

2.) Decrements in muscle hypertrophy and strength can come from regular CWI.

3.) Decreased acute perception of muscle soreness and fatigue could be beneficial, but does it outweigh the hypertrophy and strength reductions?

4.) CWI is no more effective in reducing inflammatory markers than active recovery (Biking, Jogging etc.) following resistance training.

5.) Do what you want! 


Higgins, T. R., Greene, D. A., & Baker, M. K. (2017). Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery From Team Sport. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(5), 1443-1460. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001559

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., . . . Raastad, T. (2016). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. The Journal of Physiology, 595(3), 695-711. doi:10.1113/jp272881

Roberts, L. A., Raastad, T., Markworth, J. F., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I. M., Shield, A., . . . Peake, J. M. (2015). Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. The Journal of Physiology, 593(18), 4285-4301. doi:10.1113/jp270570

By | 2017-09-19T15:58:55+00:00 July 17th, 2017|Hot Topics|

Subscribe To HSCCOACH!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Welcome to HSCCOACH!