Recovery! Cold water immersion

With the start of the winter sport season fast approaching, it is a good idea to start getting your recovery plans in order!  The hyperbaric chamber and float tanks are used in professional sport from the NBA to the AFL.  Today’s blog is on the simple (yet often done wrong!) contrasts baths or ‘immersion therapy’.

Ice baths should be used between 2 bouts of exercises, between 24-48 hours apart.  An exception to this rule is playing sport in extreme heat where you use on the same day of competition.  It is worth noting that there is a reduction in performance after the application of ice/cold water, so for optimal performance it is not ideal to use between competitions on the same day.

Research has found positive effects of water immersion with temperate of 10-15° for cold water, and 38-40° for hot water.  Any less than 10° or any higher than 40° can stimulate pain receptors. The ratio of hot:cold during contrast water therapy should be 1:1, with research showing positive performance effects after 7 rotations of 1 minute hot and 1 minute cold.

The whole body should be exposed to the cold (excluding the head) and athletes should be standing rather than sitting to maximise the hydrostatic pressure effects – the pressure will be 10 times than wearing compression skins post exercise!!!

If it is not possible to use temperature between 10-15°, benefits from higher temperatures may be observed using longer durations of exposure.  The skin temperature is 34° so anything lower than this will cool your system down.

Other notable benefits of immersion therapy include:

  • Analgesia – reduction in pain
  • Beta-Endorphins increase four-fold in water immersion (sense of well-being and suppression of pain)
  • Water immersion increase the release of dopamine (better mood, sleep and motivation)

Below is a 4 minute video on how the Australian Institute of Sport use cold water immersion.




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