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Ice Baths - Is Cold Water Immersion killing your gains and performance!?

Many athletes swear by CWI to help recovery, but what does the science say?

The Layout 👇

  • A brief discussion on Cold Exposure and Cold Water Immersion 🥶

  • What the Scientific Research has to say 🔬

  • Practical Applications & Key Takeaway 💡

  • Strength Sports News and Highlights from the past week 🗞

  • Review and Share if you think it will benefit others to read! 🤝

Exposure to cold temperatures whether it’s ice baths, a cold shower, cryotherapy or whatever other form of cold water immersion (CWI) you can think of have all risen in popularity in the past few years. Popularity aside- does it actually help recovery, reduce the dreaded DOMS and what are the effects it can have on your performance? 🥶

Many swear by ice baths citing benefits such as improved exercise recovery, reduced inflammation and increased mental alertness.


You even have the likes of Wim Hof (The Iceman), a dutch extreme athlete who has climbed Mt.Kilimanjaro in shorts, ran a half marathon above the arctic circle barefoot and ice bathed for over 112 minutes in one sitting. Impressive is an understatement. His method in regards to cold exposure and it’s benefits has now even been studied ➡️ (Kox et al., 2014).

Despite the touted benefits of CWI, several studies have now concluded that it may actually negatively impact the hypertrophy response from training.


Popularity doesn’t matter here at Strength Framework, we look at what the evidence has to say. We deal in facts 🕵️‍♂️.

The touted Pro’s of CWI like reducing acute inflammation and perceived muscle soreness has it marked as a highly effective recovery tool (Tipton et al., 2017) & (Bleakley et al., 2012).

A meta analysis by (Merrick, 2013) published in the Journal of Sports Medicine looked at 14 studies and concluded that, “CWI may be effective at reducing muscle soreness in the first 96 hours after exercise”.

A large systematic review with meta analysis by (Moore et al., 2022) included 52 studies which looked at CWI vs Passive recovery on athletic performance after a single bout of intense exercise. Their findings showed that CWI was an effective recovery tool after high intensity exercise with positive outcomes on muscle power, muscle soreness and perceived recovery. They also found a dose response relationship that shorter duration and colder temperatures may improve the effects from CWI.

NOTE: Acute Inflammation isn’t inherently a bad thing, it’s a natural process in the body and different from chronic low grade inflammation. Acute inflammation is part of the recovery process to help repair damaged tissue. In other words, if you reduce acute inflammation you could be slowing down the recovery process.

A Review in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Peake et al., 2017) states Blocking muscle inflammation in response to exercise-induced muscle damage in healthy young individuals may interfere with functional recovery and adaptive processes in muscle”

A Research Paper by (Roberts et al., 2015) published in the Journal of Physiology, compared 10 minutes of CWI or Active Recovery with regards to changes in muscle mass and strength over a 12 week period in two separate studies. One study included 21 physically active men and the other 9. The results showed that CWI may result in smaller long term muscle size and strength gains.

A 7 week study by (Fyfe et al., 2019b) with 16 male subjects perform either 15 minutes at 10 degrees of CWI post exercise or passive recovery. Their findings showed that 1RM leg press strength was similar between groups but muscle size response was less in the CWI group, showing that CWI impedes muscle growth but not necessarily strength adaptations.

Last one for today 🌚. A study by (Fröhlich et al., 2014) took 17 male students on a 5 week strength training programme. What I like about this study is they split the CWI and Control group per leg, which means each of the 17 students performed both, just one leg was allocated to CWI and the other was the control leg. This removes another variable point in a study. Findings? Long term strength adaptations can be negatively affected by CWI, however the negative effects are small (1-2%). The practical application based in a sport setting on strength increase vs recovery should be considered.


Overall in terms of hypertrophy (muscle growth), the literature trends towards CWI not being beneficial for muscle growth. However CWI won’t totally kill your gains. In the studies above the subjects still gained muscle, the response to training was just blunted and resulted in less than the subjects who didn’t use CWI.

In terms of strength, the effects of CWI are conflicting between studies. One stating no negative effect and two that show a negative effect, however the nevgative effect is small.

Other benefits of CWI: muscle soreness and perceived recovery are shown are pretty consistent based on the studies I have been able to find.

NOTE: All of these studies examine the effect of CWI immediately after training. Spacing it 6-8 hours after training or on a rest day may reduce its negative effect and still provide the other recovery benefits, however I have not found any studies on the matter.

Practical Applications ✍️

If your goal it to maximise muscle growth perhaps don’t jump into an ice bath straight after training, it may even be more effective to just avoid it and use other forms of recovery.

If your goal is strength and you feel you need extra recovery the evidence shows that it’s has no effect to minimal effect. Try my suggestion of separating your training and CWI by 6-8 hours or doing it on a rest day and see how you get on.

In terms of a sport and performance application, you might have back to back games or repeated performance efforts you need to do over several days resulting in high work loads. CWI may help reduce soreness and allow you to perform better on game day / over this period.

The large systematic review above also recommends shorter duration but colder temperatures. However this should be done safely.

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