2016 study finds ice baths aided cycling performance after strength training

Selena McLeod

A 2016 study involving cyclists suggests that ice baths might reduce the detrimental effects of a lower body strength training session (weightlifting) on a subsequent high intensity training session (cycling).

The study was published in PeerJ and carried out by researchers from Australia and New Zealand. This study involved endurance-trained athletes (not strength-trained) and compared the effects of ice baths and cold air treatment on 1) their maximal cycling performance and 2) post-exercise markers of muscle damage following a typical strength training session.

A group of twenty athletes, evenly split between men and women, were randomly selected to take part in a test group that either used cold-water immersion therapy (15 min in 14 C water to waist level) or cold air treatment (15 min in 14 C air). Both treatments were done immediately following a strength training session comprising of three sets of leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls at 6 repetitions.  Then, measurements were taken of creatine kinase, muscle soreness and fatigue, isometric knee extensor and flexor torque and cycling anaerobic power, prior to and immediately after and at 24, 48 and 72 hours after the strength exercises. There were no significant differences found between treatments; however, trends suggested that recovery was greater in the ice bath group compared to the cold air group for cycling anaerobic power. The  findings of the researchers suggest that the combination of hydrostatic pressure with cold temperature may be more favourable for recovery after strength training than cold temperature alone.

The researchers concluded that overall “the current trends indicated that the application of [cold-water immersion] aided in the recovery of maximal cycling performance” in the test subjects. These findings suggest that cold-water immersion may minimize “the detrimental effects of lower body strength training-induced fatigue on the quality of subsequent high intensity intermittent training session”. The researchers also speculated that “given that strength training could induce sub-optimal training adaptations for modes of endurance exercise, improving anaerobic capacity via [cold-water immersion] may maximize training adaptations during concurrent training.”