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Do Ice Baths Really Help With Recovery?

By Robert Takla, USA Triathlon, 09/11/19, 1:45PM CDT

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This article will focus on cold water immersion (CWI) as a recovery aid. Cold therapy is also used to reduce pain and swelling of an acutely injured joint or muscle.

Triathletes are unique individuals who possess some level of obsession, are data-driven, and are usually overtrained rather than undertrained. However, like all athletes, we look for ways to enhance our recovery from repeated bouts of exercise so we are able to apply a repeat high training stress shortly after a previous training exposure in order to maximize adaptation and performance.   

Many factors impact recovery; genetics and age are two factors over which we have little control. There are many other recovery adjuncts, some proven and others anecdotal, including sleep, nutrition, pneumatic compression devices, compression clothing, even electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) or pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy.

One very popular, inexpensive, and easily available method for post-race or past-training recovery often used is cold water immersion. Athletes of all disciplines sit in an ice bath because it “helps with recovery” and reduces muscle soreness. But does it?