We do not advocate cold water immersion for our athletes right now because I feel that there isn’t any evidence to suggest that it has any favorable effects, and for such an annoying experience, you need to be getting considerable benefit in order to be using it regularly.
-Eric Cressey 2010
What is considerable? Is something worth it? A common question I have is regeneration. I have experimented with different techniques for years and find that the common sense approach drives the interpretation of the science. Months ago, I handed my interns books such as Cryotherapy in Sport and Regeneration techniques from different countries. The most obvious question is does the athlete need the technique at all?
When private facilities start talking about regeneration, the first response I share is that their business model doesn’t usually have athletes training double sessions 6 days a week. 12 sessions during a mean GPP is hard work and if it’s being charged for, out of the price point of most athletes in HS and college. I can’t imagine triples anymore unless an athlete is only training and has no other responsibilities. I did four sessions a day for one All-American athlete, but that’s because he had an amazing support system and he was sleeping and eating perfectly. I have never experienced that dedication again. Still, the reality is most team sports are looking for regeneration when they don’t train, and those like olympic athletes who do seem to overtrain ironically don’t have the money to pay for regeneration.
Regeneration is reflecting the training. Train soft, regeneration isn’t needed, but lifestyle doesn’t count. One, no matter how light or hard is training, should eat right and rest. Regeneration is not about inflammation or parasympathetic reactivation only, and yes research supports CWI for the later. Regeneration is the gray area between rehabilitation and recovery, somewhere when the limits are being pushed. When someone does an ice bath, I often see they are doing it for pain after fast sessions to the joints. Myofibril disruption is one thing, swelling is another, but pain is the first step. When the athlete warms up on the grass the next session some of the research designs don’t take for account multiple training sessions such as the one shared by Dr. Sands, who spoke on regeneration a few years ago at the BSMPG. A cold shower don’t at the right time with the right sequence of training has shown to be effective for treating depression, but I have seen it help HRV over 12 hours with athletes. Not only does this help with mood, but it helps athletes respond to fatigue. Another point is that technique development requires sometimes an artificial influx of repetition when working with some coaches. I sent a few athletes to see a coach and was surprised the back to back to back hard days. It wasn’t so much the training load as the teaching load on the body. Keep going through the pain and learn , as I have yet to see a research study showing lack of motor skill acquisition from ice baths.
If you need regeneration to keep going, you better know what you are doing. I think most of the time, time, is just the most important variable. Sorry but you have to wait, and it stinks doing two tempo sessions back to back because one is not ready to sprint. My HRV is Hamstring Readiness Variability. I don’t care what the gadgets say, if an athlete is stiff and flat and they have tight hamstrings I am not sprinting. On the other hand, HRV has helped me see patterns of loads on the body like a lifeline.
So the question is what to do? Read the research and experiment. Are athletes getting faster and stronger than before? Are they gaining 1 or two pounds a week? Are they feeling better during heavy periods when things get dark. One caveat is be very specific on timing. Much of the cold research says right after could impair the adaptation process, but cryosauna research seems to say the opposite. If the athlete is stiff and tight and in pain do the plunge, but if they feel good they may not need it, but DOMS is delayed so be careful. I do them after high intensity days only if I think we needed the nervous system load and we are doing workouts afterwords that are supportive. Loosing a workout adaptation for aerobic and muscle adaptation isn’t going to be a big deal when one is training twice a day. While this is artificial, so is elite sport.
Look at the weekly and monthly changes and results. Those that do regeneration should have a statistically significant change, if not look at the timing and sequence more, and if they are training hard in the first place. Much of the research attenuates a Zumba class, as it’s easy to hose down a brush fire rather than an extreme forrest fire.
Note: The Wildfire analogy I have used in the past, and I wanted to dedicate this post to the firefighters in Arizona who died recently in order to protect us.