Skip to main content

Ice bath: not as good as you thought?

Ice bath: not as good as you think?

Sports physiotherapist

There are several methods used by athletes on a daily basis for recovery after exercise. They are usually used to reduce muscle soreness, reduce the risk of injury and improve performance. A popular method among field hockey players is immersion in cold water following training sessions and games. Athletes who venerate this method love it above all because it reduces training-induced pain, but its real impact is little-known.

In fact, apart from reducing pain secondary to training, the ice bath does not appear to bring about any other positive changes for the field hockey player(1). Although the evidence on the subject is sometimes contradictory, Roberts (2015) showed the negative effect of ice baths on muscle mass and strength gains during a 12-week strengthening program consisting of two workouts per week. Its use for 10 minutes at 10.1°C following each workout was less effective than active rest on the bike for 10 minutes at a freely chosen low speed. Immersion in cold water delayed or even inhibited the activity of cells that normally modulate the body’s physiological response to strengthening exercises. Ultimately, the ice bath group put as much effort into training as the control group, and didn’t benefit as much in terms of muscle mass and strength gains(2).

The use of cold water immersion on a regular basis would interfere with the mechanisms of adaptations secondary to strength training(2,3). The human body has a phenomenal capacity to adapt, and recovery strategies following physical activity should be used to exploit its full potential.

Despite these results, ice baths are not necessarily a no-no for everyone. Its effect on pain reduction is well-documented, and this is the main reason why this recovery method should be chosen by field hockey players. In short, cold water immersion should not be used systematically after training, but planned specifically for different competitions and different types of training.

Written by Maxime Provencher, M. Physiotherapy

1. Glasgow, P.D. & al. Cold water immersion in the management of delayed-onset muscle soreness: Is dose important? A randomised controlled trial, Physical therapy in sport (2014),
2. Roberts, LA & al. Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. J Physiol. 2015 Jul 14. P1-17.
3. Frohlich,M. & al. Strength training adaptations after cold-water immersion. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. September 2014,VOLUME 28, Num 9. P.2628-2633.

Want to stay on top of new articles before they’re published?
Subscribe to our newsletter.

From the same author

SpeedTracker as a screening test!

Assess your athletes with the SpeedTracker at any time to quantify their skating or running technique so you can take the necessary action to optimize their performance. Mr. Hip 18 years old – QMJHL – Pre-season evaluation results Hip pain for 3 years. No...

read more

SpeedTracker: Injury prevention

Evaluating your athletes with the SpeedTracker before the start of a season is essential to establish an optimal return-to-play strategy in the event of injury during the season. Mr. Right 15 years old – Midget AAA : Pre-season evaluation results Pre-season...

read more