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The Cold Hard Truth About Cold Therapy

male and female athletes use CoreTx GO Palm Cooling Device

Cold Baths, Cryotherapy and other forms of cold treatments are hitting the headlines almost daily, with viral pictures of athletes embracing the cold on social media alongside a long list of incredible claims, including its uses for improving recovery.

But what is the cold hard truth about these claims? All is not as it may seem, with the benefits on performance and recovery different, and important to define.

male athlete uses CoreTx GO Palm Cooling Device

Colin Edgar, founder of CET a leading cold therapy equipment supplier, has been providing elite sports teams around the world with cold therapy technology for more than two decades.

Here, he discusses the important differences between cold therapies for optimal gains and recovery.  

Reducing Inflammation

female athlete uses CoreTx GO Palm Cooling Device

It is proven that cold therapies such as Ice baths and Cryotherapy can successfully reduce inflammation. However, there are instances where reducing inflammation is not actually desirable.

The key determining factor is whether the objective is recovery such as post-training or post-match recovery, or adaptation e.g. gaining strength or muscle growth.

When we weight train, for example, our focus is to exercise the muscles until they fatigue, usually through a number of reps and sets across a range of exercises.

By doing so we cause micro-tears in the muscle fibres which our bodies then repair to be stronger or bigger than before. Our muscles require a stimulus for growth and stressing them during training causes this localised inflammation around the torn fibres.

Using cold treatments, such as an ice bath immediately after training, can stunt the natural inflammation response and result in less muscle growth.  

Consequently, when the objective is to gain strength or muscle growth, ice bath use is commonly restricted to a number of hours or even a day after the training session.

The reason cold therapies such as ice baths are popular among athletes is that they are commonly used during their game season when athletes have frequent fixtures and intense sessions which they need to recover from.

Inflammation needs to be kept to a minimum during game season to optimise players’ repeated performance. Cold treatments can help reduce muscle soreness and aid in blood flow and when recovery is the main objective, the recommendation is to use them directly following the training session in conjunction with other recovery modalities.

Enhancing Performance

Palm cooling is a simple strategy increasing numbers of athletes are utilising to improve their performance during exercise. The simple application of a cooling strategy to the palms significantly reduces fatigue and enhances performance.

In fact, peer-reviewed scientific literature from the University of Stanford has observed a 40% increase in bench press work volume in just 3 weeks and a 144% increase in pull-up volume in 6 weeks with experienced subjects.

Cooling the circulating blood from the palms benefits performance in two ways:

Firstly, peripheral fatigue – the rising temperature during exercise affects enzymes responsible for contractions, reducing the ability for the muscle to function optimally, triggering fatigue.

Secondly – central fatigue, the neural impact of palm cooling results in motor unit recruitment, which increases work capacity as more muscle fibres are stimulated and contract, therefore improving performance, while delaying fatigue.

“Our latest product, the CoreTx GO, is revolutionary in this field and a real game-changer for both strength and endurance, not just for athletes! Quick and simple applications between sets or during rest massively reduce fatigue, allowing users to dramatically increase their workload capability.” Colin Edgar, Founder of the CoreTx GO

Matt Lawrence MSc MCSP HCPC, former Paralympic Physiotherapist and owner of CrossFit 2012 gym, has been testing the CoreTx GO with his clients and has achieved astonishing results:

I use it all the time now. At first, I was extremely sceptical of this technology, but I’ve been testing myself and my clients, and we’ve seen some truly remarkable results.

As a sport scientist, I’ve approached integrating this device as clinically as I can, trying to reduce as many variables as possible. In six weeks we’ve seen clients over double their total reps of dips and bench press, and almost double their pull-ups in four sessions– and these are experienced lifters!

What we’re seeing with palm cooling is the drop-off in repetitions between each set is much smaller. By using the CoreTx GO to cool the palms for 90-120 seconds between sets, you can maintain the reps throughout each subsequent set much better. As total reps performed is higher per set, overall workload is significantly higher.”

We are only really beginning to realise the true benefits of cold treatments and applications, and there is a big case for improving both performance and recovery.

However, what is emerging is that the timing of these applications is key to maximising muscle gain, enhancing performance and optimising recovery.

Feel-Good Chemicals

Low-temperature hydrotherapy is not only useful for recovery from sporting endeavours but is increasingly being adopted by the non-sporting public. 

The shock of immersion in cold water stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals, says Colin. It’s this aspect which is driving the growth in the use of ice baths at home.