Cold Water Immersion Therapy Shown Ineffective For Advanced Athletes

Cold Water Immersion Therapy Shown Ineffective For Advanced Athletes



Brazilian jiu-jitsu takes some tolls on the body. We’ve all seen the horror pictures! However many high level athletes also often resort to using cryotherapy or icebaths. But is this a myth or is there really something to it?

We’ve all seen Rickson Gracie getting into that freezing water in cult documentary Choke.

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But what is the science of it? Is there enough proof to backup the health benefits from it?

Cold water immersion is a common method for improving recovery of athletes but the science isn’t quite there to back it up – most markers indicate that it isn’t very effective in terms of recovery.

So while some studies indicate that cold water immersion definitely doesn’t work out well for newbies – is it the same for pro athletes?

One recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research was dedicated to testing this premise on Olympic level lifters.

So they proceeded to test these guys who were the German male Olympic weightlifters in order to settle the issue once and for all.

Now while different sport have different demands there was sufficient proof to claim that this type of recovery might benefit weight bearing sports much more than those classified as non-weight bearing. Some reports even said that power (although not strength) and coordination might recover quicker with CIT *(cold immersion therapy).

So they took the subjects through the experimental procedure. First day they assigned a normal workout to test subjects averaging from 18-25 working sets – in 3-5 repeat range. Some of the exercises varied from phase the phase but volume was the same.

Both objective and subjective measures were taken. So what came next was a bit of surprise. The CIT therapy didn’t work – on average the athletes didn’t experience a significant benefit from using it.

However two of the athletes who were using CIT actually had a loss in performance suggesting that inter-individual variability might play a significant role. Some benefit, some are hindered by this treatment.

Then again there’s also the placebo effect as well as it’s counteract – nocebo. Because there’s no way to make the treatment unknown to the participants it’s impossible to rule out that the participants expectations influenced the result.

So in the end the research concludes that the effect is not real and consistent with the nocebo effect. So perhaps just skip the ice bath next time!



Jan Schimpchen, et. al., “Can cold water immersion enhance recovery in elite Olympic weightlifters? An individualized perspective,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2016, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001591.