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Cold Water Immersion and Ice Baths, A Review of the Studies and Scientific Evidence

Updated: Apr 3

ice bath cold immersion studies evidence

Do you take an ice bath or practice cold water immersion? In advance of writing our own article on this subject, we are trying to stay on top of the studies - to see where the evidence points. And the scientific evidence appears to be mixed - dependent on what effect you are looking for to support your journey to health.


  • Reducing muscle soreness, yes.

  • Reducing muscle growth, also yes.

  • Making you feel great for the rest of the day? Perhaps.


Please note, if you are going to try ice bathing, cold shock can be dangerous. Do it under supervision. As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment.


Feel free to browse the studies below, there are active links within each citation. If you have relevant studies to add, please include them in the comments box at bottom of page.


Chill Out! Or not.

Alastair

 

Piñero, A., Burke, R., Augustin, F., Mohan, A. E., DeJesus, K., Sapuppo, M., Weisenthal, M., Coleman, M., Patroklos Androulakis‐Korakakis, Grgic, J., Swinton, P. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2024). Throwing cold water on muscle growth: A systematic review with meta‐analysis of the effects of postexercise cold water immersion on resistance training‐induced hypertrophy. European Journal of Sport Science. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsc.12074


Moore E, Fuller JT, Bellenger CR, Saunders S, Halson SL, Broatch JR, Buckley JD. Effects of Cold-Water Immersion Compared with Other Recovery Modalities on Athletic Performance Following Acute Strenuous Exercise in Physically Active Participants: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression. Sports Med. 2023 Mar;53(3):687-705. doi: 10.1007/s40279-022-01800-1. Epub 2022 Dec 17. PMID: 36527593.


Moore E, Fuller JT, Buckley JD, Saunders S, Halson SL, Broatch JR, Bellenger CR. Impact of Cold-Water Immersion Compared with Passive Recovery Following a Single Bout of Strenuous Exercise on Athletic Performance in Physically Active Participants: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis and Meta-regression. Sports Med. 2022 Jul;52(7):1667-1688. doi: 10.1007/s40279-022-01644-9. Epub 2022 Feb 14. PMID: 35157264; PMCID: PMC9213381.


Xiao F, Kabachkova AV, Jiao L, Zhao H, Kapilevich LV. Effects of cold water immersion after exercise on fatigue recovery and exercise performance--meta analysis. Front Physiol. 2023 Jan 20;14:1006512. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2023.1006512. PMID: 36744038; PMCID: PMC9896520.

 

Yankouskaya A, Williamson R, Stacey C, Totman JJ, Massey H. Short-Term Head-Out Whole-Body Cold-Water Immersion Facilitates Positive Affect and Increases Interaction between Large-Scale Brain Networks. Biology (Basel). 2023 Jan 29;12(2):211. doi: 10.3390/biology12020211. PMID: 36829490; PMCID: PMC9953392.

 

Reed EL, Chapman CL, Whittman EK, Park TE, Larson EA, Kaiser BW, Comrada LN, Wiedenfeld Needham K, Halliwill JR, Minson CT. Cardiovascular and mood responses to an acute bout of cold water immersion. J Therm Biol. 2023 Dec;118:103727. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2023.103727. Epub 2023 Oct 14. PMID: 37866096; PMCID: PMC10842018.

 

Driller M, Leabeater A. Fundamentals or Icing on Top of the Cake? A Narrative Review of Recovery Strategies and Devices for Athletes. Sports (Basel). 2023 Nov 3;11(11):213. doi: 10.3390/sports11110213. PMID: 37999430; PMCID: PMC10674277.

 

Horgan BG, Halson SL, Drinkwater EJ, West NP, Tee N, Alcock RD, Chapman DW, Haff GG. No effect of repeated post-resistance exercise cold or hot water immersion on in-season body composition and performance responses in academy rugby players: a randomised controlled cross-over design. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2023 Feb;123(2):351-359. doi: 10.1007/s00421-022-05075-2. Epub 2022 Oct 25. PMID: 36284024; PMCID: PMC9895015.


Grgic J. Effects of post-exercise cold-water immersion on resistance training-induced gains in muscular strength: a meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci. 2023 Mar;23(3):372-380. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2033851. Epub 2022 Feb 20. PMID: 35068365.


Esperland D, de Weerd L, Mercer JB. Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water - a continuing subject of debate. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2022 Dec;81(1):2111789. doi: 10.1080/22423982.2022.2111789. PMID: 36137565; PMCID: PMC9518606.

 

Faid T, Van Gordon W, Taylor EC. Breathing Exercises, Cold-Water Immersion, and Meditation: Mind-Body Practices Lead to Reduced Stress and Enhanced Well-Being. Adv Mind Body Med. 2022 Summer;36(3):12-20. PMID: 36308505.


Choo HC, Lee M, Yeo V, Poon W, Ihsan M. The effect of cold water immersion on the recovery of physical performance revisited: A systematic review with meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2022 Dec;40(23):2608-2638. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2023.2178872. Epub 2023 Mar 2. PMID: 36862831.

 

Chaillou T, Treigyte V, Mosely S, Brazaitis M, Venckunas T, Cheng AJ. Functional Impact of Post-exercise Cooling and Heating on Recovery and Training Adaptations: Application to Resistance, Endurance, and Sprint Exercise. Sports Med Open. 2022 Mar 7;8(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s40798-022-00428-9. PMID: 35254558; PMCID: PMC8901468.


Kelly JS, Bird E. Improved mood following a single immersion in cold water. Lifestyle Med. 2022; 3:e53. https://doi.org/10.1002/lim2.53

 

Malta ES, Dutra YM, Broatch JR, Bishop DJ, Zagatto AM. The Effects of Regular Cold-Water Immersion Use on Training-Induced Changes in Strength and Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2021 Jan;51(1):161-174. doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01362-0. PMID: 33146851.


Demori I, Piccinno T, Saverino D, Luzzo E, Ottoboni S, Serpico D, Chiera M, Giuria R. Effects of winter sea bathing on psychoneuroendocrinoimmunological parameters. Explore (NY). 2021 Mar-Apr;17(2):122-126. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2020.02.004. Epub 2020 Feb 26. PMID: 32224255.


Milda Eimonte, Henrikas Paulauskas, Laura Daniuseviciute, Nerijus Eimantas, Astra Vitkauskiene, Gintare Dauksaite, Rima Solianik & Marius Brazaitis (2021) Residual effects of short-term whole-body cold-water immersion on the cytokine profile, white blood cell count, and blood markers of stress, International Journal of Hyperthermia, 38:1, 696-707, DOI: 10.1080/02656736.2021.1915504

 

Ihsan M, Abbiss CR, Allan R. Adaptations to Post-exercise Cold Water Immersion: Friend, Foe, or Futile? Front Sports Act Living. 2021 Jul 16;3:714148. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.714148. PMID: 34337408; PMCID: PMC8322530.

 

Petersen AC, Fyfe JJ. Post-exercise Cold Water Immersion Effects on Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Training and the Underlying Mechanisms in Skeletal Muscle: A Narrative Review. Front Sports Act Living. 2021 Apr 8;3:660291. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.660291. PMID: 33898988; PMCID: PMC8060572.

 

Poppendieck W, Wegmann M, Hecksteden A, Darup A, Schimpchen J, Skorski S, Ferrauti A, Kellmann M, Pfeiffer M, Meyer T. Does Cold-Water Immersion After Strength Training Attenuate Training Adaptation? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2021 Feb 1;16(2):304-310. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2019-0965. Epub 2020 Nov 20. PMID: 33217726.


Peake JM, Markworth JF, Cumming KT, Aas SN, Roberts LA, Raastad T, Cameron-Smith D, Figueiredo VC. The Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Active Recovery on Molecular Factors That Regulate Growth and Remodeling of Skeletal Muscle After Resistance Exercise. Front Physiol. 2020 Jun 30;11:737. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00737. PMID: 32695024; PMCID: PMC7339943.


de Freitas VH, Ramos SP, Bara-Filho MG, Freitas DGS, Coimbra DR, Cecchini R, Guarnier FA, Nakamura FY. Effect of Cold Water Immersion Performed on Successive Days on Physical Performance, Muscle Damage, and Inflammatory, Hormonal, and Oxidative Stress Markers in Volleyball Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Feb;33(2):502-513. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001884. PMID: 28277426.


Fuchs CJ, Kouw IWK, Churchward-Venne TA, Smeets JSJ, Senden JM, Lichtenbelt WDVM, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes. J Physiol. 2020 Feb;598(4):755-772. doi: 10.1113/JP278996. Epub 2019 Dec 29. PMID: 31788800; PMCID: PMC7028023.


Knechtle B, Waśkiewicz Z, Sousa CV, Hill L, Nikolaidis PT. Cold Water Swimming-Benefits and Risks: A Narrative Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 2;17(23):8984. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238984. PMID: 33276648; PMCID: PMC7730683.

 

Fyfe JJ, Broatch JR, Trewin AJ, Hanson ED, Argus CK, Garnham AP, Halson SL, Polman RC, Bishop DJ, Petersen AC. Cold water immersion attenuates anabolic signaling and skeletal muscle fiber hypertrophy, but not strength gain, following whole-body resistance training. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2019 Nov 1;127(5):1403-1418. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00127.2019. Epub 2019 Sep 12. PMID: 31513450.

 

Ahokas EK, Ihalainen JK, Kyröläinen H, Mero AA. Effects of Water Immersion Methods on Postexercise Recovery of Physical and Mental Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jun;33(6):1488-1495. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003134. PMID: 31008862.


 

Higgins TR, Greene DA, Baker MK. Effects of Cold Water Immersion and Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery From Team Sport: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 May;31(5):1443-1460. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001559. PMID: 27398915.

 

Roberts LA, Raastad T, Markworth JF, Figueiredo VC, Egner IM, Shield A, Cameron-Smith D, Coombes JS, Peake JM. Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. J Physiol. 2015 Sep 15;593(18):4285-301. doi: 10.1113/JP270570. Epub 2015 Aug 13. PMID: 26174323; PMCID: PMC4594298.

 

Roberts LA, Muthalib M, Stanley J, Lichtwark G, Nosaka K, Coombes JS, Peake JM. Effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on hemodynamics and recovery of muscle strength following resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2015 Aug 15;309(4):R389-98. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00151.2015. Epub 2015 Jun 10. PMID: 26062633.


 

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