We all live busy lives and want to get the most out of our training.
What if you were doing something that was decreasing your adaptation to workouts? In the last decade, science has been slowly showing that commonly used artificial means of recovery may in fact not be as beneficial as thought.
You have likely either seen the following routine in others or practiced it yourself. After a hard training session or a race, the athlete jumps into a bath filled with ice water. The thinking is that this will reduce soreness, which will allow sooner or harder training.
Unfortunately, the opposite may be the case.
A study from 2002 found that after high intensity knee extension exercise, the group taking either Ibuprofen or acetaminophen experienced less protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.
More recently, a study was done looking at the effects of ice-water immersion on delayed onset muscle soreness. The researchers found no significant difference in pain, tenderness, strength, swelling, hop for distance, or serum creatine kinase between the control and experimental groups, after high intensity weight lifting.
The newest study looked at icing and it’s effect on recovery from exercise induced muscle damage. After performing elbow extensions to fatigue, groups either were given topical ice packs, or not. Subjective fatigue levels were actually higher at 72 hours for the group that received ice! For eccentric induced muscle damage, it was concluded that the cooling actually delayed recovery.
Other studies have shown non ice-bathed limbs gained more strength and/or endurance than limbs that were treated with cold therapy, Ibuprofen inhibiting muscle strengthening in exercising rats, and antioxidant supplements delaying muscle recovery.
Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and ice bathing is a fairly common practice. However, as Brad Aiken, medical director for rehabilitation at Baptism Hospital, Miami, Fla said, “Anything that interferes with the natural physiology would likely interfere with the expected outcome [of] larger, stronger muscles,” he says. “Muscle fibers require a certain amount of time for these changes to occur.”
The natural means of recovery and adaptation to training stimulus include:
Proper rest after the hard effort. This can include full rest or lower intensity training.
Using a cool-down after hard training instead of abruptly stopping
A diet of proper nutrition amounts and with proper timing in relation to training.
As you can see, researchers have hinted at ice bathing and NSAIDS actually causing less adaptation and recovery from hard exercise. The athletes may not be getting the full fitness increases from workouts!
Next time you finish a hard workout or a race. Skip the ice bath or Ibuprofen and instead eat some berries, go for a walk or bike ride. Know that you are indeed reaping all the benefits from the hard workout and not cutting yourself short by losing out on some adaptation.