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Fitness & Health

01st Oct 2019

Ice baths and cryotherapy probably don’t work, says new study

Many top sport stars swear by cryotherapy, but a team of mainly Australian researchers found that it doesn't benefit muscle growth

Alex Roberts

Mark Wahlberg and many top sport stars swear by a spell in the cryochamber, but does it really get results?

One new study is sceptical. A team of mainly Australian researchers found that cryotherapy is not beneficial for muscle growth.

Cryotherapy doesn’t just involve that icy-looking chamber that resembles a WWE Elimination Chamber. Any post-workout recovery that claims to induce coldness can be filed under the same term.

This study in particular looked at cold water immersion.

16 men were put on a seven week training programme, with half the group engaging cold water cryotherapy after their workouts. The remainder did not take on any recovery protocols.

After the seven weeks were up, scientists made the following findings:

  • Cold water immersion blunted muscle gain
  • It reduced anabolic signals which trigger muscle growth
  • It also increased catabolism – the breakdown of protein and muscle tissue

Scientists are adamant that you should avoid cold water cryotherapy if gaining muscle mass is your primary gym goal. They say: “Post-exercise cold water immersion should therefore be avoided if muscle hypertrophy is desired.”

What is cryotherapy?

Previously, JOE spoke to Dr. Leon Creaney of the Manchester Institute of Health & Performance. He said:

“We use the term ‘cold water immersion’ when we talk about ice baths. Whole body cryotherapy involves standing in a cryotherapy chamber, with temperatures as low as -140C.”

Dr. Creaney believes cold water therapy can have benefits, but only in the right scenario.

Can cryotherapy ever offer benefits?

“There is lots of conflicting research. One very important thing to mention is the difference between training and competition.

“During training, athletes are deliberately trying to cause some inflammation in the body, in order to stimulate a training adaptation.”

Muscle growth, for example, is achieved by a degree of inflammation that causes the muscles to grow as an adaptation.

“Therefore regular use of cold water immersion to block inflammation is going to block the effects of training. Not a good idea.”

Where performance is the goal, the picture is slightly different.

“During competition, the focus is on performance. Therefore, athletes use the technique to improve physical/psychological parameters.

“This is especially true when having to compete more than once per day, or several days in a row. Here, either cold water immersion or cryotherapy can work.” 

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