BRISBANE, Australia, Aug. 12 (UPI) — Athletes looking to minimize muscle tears and soreness after workouts may be better off with an active warm down instead of an ice bath, according to a new study.
The belief that an ice bath can constrict blood vessels and decrease metabolic activity in order to reduce swelling and muscle tears is widely held. While researchers said the practice is not detrimental, the reduction of potential muscle growth means it’s not the best option.
“We found that cold water immersion after training substantially attenuated, or reduced, long-term gains in muscle mass and strength,” said Dr. Llion Roberts, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, in a press release. “At this stage we are unsure why cold water immersion had this effect, but a reduction of muscle blood flow could be one mechanism.”
Researcher put 21 physically active men through strength training for 12 weeks, asking half the group to take a warm-down on an exercise bike and the other half to spend 10 minutes in an ice bath set at 10 degrees Celsius.
At the end of 12 weeks, they found that strength and muscle mass increases were higher in the men who were assigned to the warm-down instead of the ice bath.
The men also were asked to perform single-leg strength exercises, followed by an ice bath or warm-down, before researchers took muscle biopsies from them. For as long as two days after the ice bath, satellite cells that help build and strengthen muscles were “blunted,” researchers said.
By slowing the blood flow through muscles, researchers think the ice baths are slowing the natural process of rebuilding and strengthening muscles.
“This is the most comprehensive study of its kind and the results suggest individuals who use strength training to improve athletic performance, recover from injury or maintain their health, should reconsider using cold water immersion as a recovery aid,” said Dr. Jonathan Peake, of the School of Biomedical Sciences at Queensland University of Technology.