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Science cool on ice baths for athletes

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 13/02/2017

New Zealand scientists are pouring cold water on the benefits of sportspeople plunging into ice baths following competition and training.

"Ice baths have become almost standard practice for a lot of athletes, yet until now there have been no studies on humans to test their effectiveness," says Professor David Cameron-Smith from the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute.

"Our study found ice baths are no more beneficial than a simple low intensity warm-down at reducing inflammation and muscle damage after intense exercise."

Ice baths are used in the belief that they promote muscle recovery by reducing temperature, blood flow and inflammation in muscle tissue.

The Liggins Institute study, which has been published in the Journal of Physiology, got nine men to do leg resistance training exercises and the scientists compared the effects of ice baths against simply warming down.

Muscle biopsies showed the same pattern of inflammatory responses for both.

Earlier research by the same team showed ice baths actually reduced the benefits of training hard - with smaller gains in muscle mass and strength following weight training.

However, Prof Cameron-Smith said there was some evidence that ice baths may be helpful in endurance training and for tendon and ligament injuries.

"If you have a quick turnaround between games or events, ice baths may be useful to help you relax and provide short-term relief to muscle pain, but they're not going to reduce inflammation and will be detrimental to building muscle in the long run," he said.

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