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  • the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(6) · March 2014

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of cold-water immersion (CWI) on physiological, psychological, and biochemical markers of recovery and subsequent cycling performance after intensive run training.

7 high-performance male triathletes completed 2 trials in a randomized crossover design consisting of 7 x 5 minute running intervals at 105% of individual anaerobic threshold followed by either

  1. CWI (10C)
  2. thermoneutral water immersion (TNI; 34C).

Subjects immersed their legs in water 5 times for 60 seconds with 60-second passive rest between each immersion.

9 hours after immersion, inflammatory and muscle damage markers, and perceived recovery measures were obtained before the subjects completed a 5 minute maximal cycling test followed by a high quality cycling interval training set (6 x 5-minute intervals).

Power output, heart rate, blood lactate (La), and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were also recorded during the cycling time-trial and interval set.

Performance was enhanced in the CWI condition during the cycling interval training set. However, there was an unclear effect of CWI on 5-minute maximal cycling time-trial performance, and there was no significant influence on perceptual measures of fatigue/recovery, despite small to moderate effects. The effect of CWI on the biochemical markers was mostly unclear, however, there was a substantial effect for interleukin-10.

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Physical, Mental, Soreness and Fatique:

Subjects were asked to record their perception of physical and mental recovery, leg soreness, and general fatigue using a 10-point Likert scale. The scale for each variable was rated from none at all (0) to extreme (10). In addition, they were asked to record whether they felt the CWI or TNI control condition assisted or hindered their recovery from the interval running session (i.e., yes or no response) and whether CWI or TNI condition would benefit their subsequent cycling training performance (i.e., yes or no response).

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Immediately after the assessment of psychological recovery, blood was collected for the assessment of inflammation and muscle damage to be used as an indication of recovery.

The present finding that CWI increased IL-10 activity suggests that cold water has a positive effect on reducing inflammation by increasing the activity of IL-10 (Interleukin-10 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine capable of inhibiting proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, with an increase in IL-10 activity possibly expected to restrict the magnitude and duration of the inflammatory response to exercise).

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The major finding of this study was that compared with TNI, CWI had a likely beneficial effect on mean power output during subsequent cycling interval training performance but not 5-minute cycling test performance after interval running training. Furthermore, CWI had no significant effect on the perceptual responses, and IL-10 was the only blood measure that was likely changed after the CWI.

Furthermore the mechanism for this beneficial effect is speculative and requires further investigation, the present data are consistent with previous studies that have reported a lower perception of fatigue after exercise when water immersion was used for recovery. However, it is possible that the beneficial effects observed with CWI may simply be a treatment effect because no placebo group was used in the present investigation. Therefore, it is possible that the reduced sensation of fatigue and improved training performance observed in the present study occurred because the subjects believed that CWI was beneficial for recovery.