Cold water therapy

Have you seen CrossFit Games athletes get into tubs of ice?

Cold exposure therapies are gaining attention in the crossfit world but what does the science say?

In this post we will discuss the benefits of cold water protocols to improve performance and recovery.

This post contains affiliate links for which we receive a small commission and which in no case implies an increase in the price for you.

The science on cold water for the general population

Although it seems the most normal thing in the world to bathe with hot water, we have only been doing it for a few years.

Our ancestors bathed in natural waters and they were generally not hot.

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bathing in cold water ice

And not only water, over the years we have increased our comforts and reduced the adversities.

We live in an environment that hardly changes in temperature: in winter we have heating at home, in the car, at work... The same happens with the air conditioning in summer.

Our ability to cope with small stressors has been reduced and this has been another component of the environment in which we live, which is not very favorable for our health.

Benefits of cold water baths

Let's take a look at some of the benefits of including cold water baths in our routine.

Metabolic

Cold exposure improves insulin resistance and obesity. It is also associated with increased longevity.

This is because when we are exposed to cold, adipocytes release a protein (adiponectin) that stimulates fat burning.

Brown adipose tissue is usually an inactive tissue but in cold weather it puts the mitochondria to work, converting calories into heat and thus increasing energy expenditure. Study 1, Study 2

All this in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle.

The cold as well as the red light therapyThe heat, or the heat, will never compensate for a sedentary and poorly nourished life.

Inflammatory

Cold helps to reduce inflammation, which is the cause of many chronic diseases. Study

Immune

Contrary to what we might think, constant exposure to cold can increase the number of cells in our immune system. Study

State of mind

The thought of ending your shower with cold water and getting into a tub of ice cubes may not seem like the best way to lift your spirits, but people who are exposed to this treatment report that after the cold they feel much more energetic and have better mental clarity for the rest of the day.

Exposure to cold increases the levels of certain hormones (noradrenaline, dopamine and beta-endorphins) that play a very important role in our mood. Study

Psychological

Every time you face a challenge and overcome it you build more confidence in yourself and what you can do.

In this case, even though the immersion time may not be the most pleasant, when you overcome your internal struggle and decide to spend some time in the cold in exchange for the benefits of therapy, you are also training your mental strength.

justin medeiros ice bucket crossfit

Cold exposure strategies

To take advantage of the benefits of exposure to cold, it is not necessary to use a bathtub with ice cubes directly, it is enough to be willing to change some habits:

  • Spending two hours a day in an environment below 19ºC is tolerable and feasible for most of us, if we do not spend the whole winter with the heating on.
  • Finish the shower with cold water. 
  • Bathe in nature when you can, because you will also be recharging your batteries. Find out more about earthing.

Recommended temperature

Studies show that dives in waters below 14ºC already produce positive reactions in our metabolism.

It is best to perform a progressive exposure in time and temperature to achieve this objective.

Cold Water Protocols for CrossFit Athletes

The main objective during competition or training is to maintain basal temperature as close to normal as possible, in order to compete at high intensity and reduce recovery time. 

crossfit cold therapy

Normally, the average temperature of the human body is between 36-37°C (36-37°F). If we go out of that range the body has to:

  • start shivering when we are cold and avoid suffering hypothermia that could lead to frostbite and death.
  • o increase vasodilation of the arteries to evacuate heat and avoid hyperthermia, which could lead to heat stroke and death.

The body's number 1 priority is to maintain a body temperature in the normal range.

But, an increase in temperature will be inevitable if we train or compete at high intensity or if we do so at very hot times.

We know that an increase in internal temperature can inhibit sports performance especially when it comes to training/competition at high intensities. 

In order to try not to raise the temperature too much, two ways can be used:

Before the session 

Studies have shown that cooling the body before training or competition can drastically improve performance.

A good preparation helps to increase blood volume and keep the internal temperature more controlled as that blood moves to the outside of our body.

Recommended: submerge in water for 30 min - 1 hour in a range of 17-28 Cº with the aim of reducing the basal temperature to 0.3 Cº before competition.

By increasing the temperature range the athlete will take longer to reach the limit temperature.

It is not recommended: lowering body temperature well below 35°C is detrimental to performance.

If the water is too cold, it can cause vasoconstriction and shivering which can deplete muscle glycogen stores and consequently can reduce performance, quite the opposite of the objective of following this protocol.

During the session

If the type of event allows it, try to cool the face, hands and feet area.

After the session 

Cold therapy helps soothe muscles after strenuous physical activity or when it is simply too hot. 

It is not recommended: resort to cold water therapy after training, but do after a competition event.

Why avoid cold water after training?

After training, inflammation and oxidative stress are elevated, a necessary process for new muscle adaptations to be generated. If just after training we add the cold shower, it masks that ideal metabolic in which improvements occur. Study

Cold water accelerates recovery and reduces the sensation of muscle fatigue. Study.

This is why in competition, it makes sense to use cold water because the athlete wants to prioritize recovery in order to perform at his best for the next event over muscle gains..

crossfit ice cubes

Where to buy a cold water bathtub

If you are interested in a cold therapy bathtub you may have been scared because there are some that are around 1000€. But, searching a little more we have found more affordable options:

LUMI Recovery Pod

For less than 150€ you can have the simplest model of the brand. 

crossfit ice benches
  • Thermal lid: to help keep water cool between uses. 
  • Composed of 3 layers that insulate from the outside temperature.
  • Inflatable ring: for better comfort when in use
  • Drain plug
  • Capacity of 320 liters.
  • It is portable, in case you are interested in taking it somewhere.
  • The brand claims that it can maintain water at 15ºC (or even lower depending on external conditions) without adding ice.

*Once added to the cart you will get a discount of 15%

Ice Barrel

This is the brand that sponsors the CrossFit Games and has been used by athletes to recover quickly after the events.

Made of non-toxic plastic, it is shaped like a barrel. The brand located in the USA only ships to USA and Canada.

buy ice barrel crossfit

Amazon

What can't be purchased on Amazon?

Ice Bath Outdoor Recover Tub by Ice...
  • Fast recovery: The Ice Frontier cold water therapy tub offers...
  • High-quality construction: Constructed with durable, high quality materials and...
ArcticApex Ice Bath - Ice Bath...
  • Efficient recovery: The ArcticApex ice bath is an efficient and...
  • Robust construction: The ArcticApex outdoor ice bath is designed for...

DIY

We have seen that there are people who are able to make their own bathtub. If you have material at your fingertips and you are a little handyman, this will be the most economical option of all.

Using an old bathtub and assembling some legs, you already have a good starting point. It is also interesting to create some system to be able to drain the bathtub properly when you need to clean it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep the bathtub clean?

It is recommended that once a month the water is emptied and the bathtub is cleaned with neutral soap. Although it depends on the uses and personal preferences, this cleaning can be done weekly.

Is cryotherapy more effective?

This treatment exposes you to temperatures below negative 100°C but studies show that colder is not better. Study

Is the Wim Hof method similar?

The Wim Hof method aims to reconnect us with nature to live healthier and happier lives using 3 pillars: breathing, cold therapy whose benefits we have already talked about in this article and commitment.

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