A post-workout ice bath doesn't improve performance, just makes you cold

Cold Water Immersion is a much-hyped post-workout recovery technique, but new research shows it might not be as effective as you think.

Man drying off after a cold ice bath and swim
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cold Water Immersion (CWI) is one of the most curious fitness trends of recent years. 

Whilst completing stretching exercises or using one of the best foam rollers have long been common ways of recovering post-workout, CWI enthusiasts claim that a dip in ice-cold water can speed up recovery after a tough session. 

There's even a suggestion that this technique could improve circulation, boost your immune system, and aid weight loss - all key benefits of CWI promoted by legendary 'Ice Man' Wim Hof. 

However, critics argue that there's little evidence to support any of these claims - and they might have a point. 

In a recently published study, researchers wanted to investigate the effects of CWI on a range of measures. The participants were split into two groups; one with CWI and one without. Both groups were familiar with resistance training and completed two 4-week blocks of lower body workouts. 

After the sessions, the CWI group dipped into 10-degree water for 10 minutes, while the exercise-only group underwent no cold water post-workout recovery interventions. All participants completed 16 training sessions overall across the study period. The researchers measured perception, muscle function, and muscle architecture at the start, mid-point, and post-exercise. 

The least surprising finding here was that study showed that after the training program, all recruits had improvements in muscle fiber pennation angle, isometric peak force, and performance in 1/4 squats. Disappointingly for CWI supporters however, the researchers found no difference between the two groups, with no apparent benefit to a cold water soak immediately after exercise. 

That said, there were no negative impacts of CWI either. So, if you enjoy taking a cold dunk after a workout, it's probably still safe to do so. Furthermore, other studies have highlighted various health benefits of cold showers, whether taken after exercise or otherwise.

There are caveats to the CWI study, too. The trial only recruited 13 men into the program, so the results may not be generally applicable. Likewise, they were all familiar with resistance training and were in their mid-20s to early-30s. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.