In the latest issue of NSCA’s performance training journal I came an article about recovery I’d like to share with you.
Cold packs, cryo-cup massage, systemic enzymes, bromelain and traumeel are all ways to reduce training related inflammation. However, the following study shows that you have to be careful about the timing of some full body recovery methods to optimize best results.
Even massage or hydrotherapy give the best results if the treatment does not take place straight after training, but rather some hours after. In “Russian Sports Restoration & Massage” by Dr Yessis, the timing of recovery methods is discussed. “When is it more advisable to employ recovery methods – Immediately upon finishing a workout or after a certain lapse of time?”
It turns out that effects are quite different according to timing. It appears that for maximal work capacity the following day after training, it is better to employ full body recovery methods (such as hydrotherapy, full body massage) 6 to 9 hours after training.
When an immediate effect is required (during tournaments or multiple sessions throughout the day), it is advisable to employ recovery methods immediately after the training session. Local effect methods (such as a short self massage with a massage ball or fingers) are preferable following the execution of local work. East Europeans athletes are trained to apply self massage between sets while strength training. They do no just wait until the next set without doing anything, but rather gives themselves a vigorous rub down and shake their limbs.
But back to cold pack applications…
The Use of Cold Packs after Training as a Preventative Measure May Mute Training Effects.
The ability to adapt to a training stress is a careful balance between stimulation and recovery. Typically, when an athlete experiences a training stress, a cascade of physiological responses will occur during the timeframe after the cessation of the training session. During these timeframes anabolic hormones, such as growth hormones, will be released, while catabolic pro-inflammatory cytokines are released. These reactions appear to be a part of the natural remodeling process associated with training. In cases of traumatic injury, the application of cold packs is often recommended to reduce the pro-inflammatory response associated with the injury. Some individuals, in an attempt to prevent injury, use cold packs as a recovery modality in the belief that this application will enhance performance and potentially speed the rate of recovery.
Recently, the effects of cold pack application on both anabolic hormone, pro-inflammatory, and anti-inflammatory cytokines were investigated in elite junior handball players after the performance of a sprint interval workout. The study consisted of two randomly assigned treatment orders in which the subject had cold packs or no cold packs applied to their lower extremities. During the session, the twelve elite junior handball players performed four 250m sprints at 80% of maximal sprinting capacity followed immediately by 15 minutes of cold pack application, 15 minutes without the cold pack, and then a second 15-minute cold pack application. The cold pack was applied to the subjects’ hamstrings while the athletes passively rested. During the second session, the only difference was that no cold packs were applied during the 1-hour post-exercise timeframe. Blood samples were taken pre, immediately post, and one hour post-exercise and were analyzed for growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1), testosterone, cortisol, IGF-binding protein-1, interlukin-6 (IL-6), interlukin-1b (IL-1b), and IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra). The sprint interval work resulted in a significant increase in circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6), GH, testosterone, and IGF-binding protein-1. The application of a cold pack resulted in a significant reduction in both pro-inflammatory (IL-1b) and anti-inflammatory (IL-1ra) cytokines as well as IGF-1 and IGF-binding protein-3.
Collectively, the cold pack induced responses resulted in a reduction of anabolic hormone responses as well as a reduction in both pro and anti-inflammatory responses. These findings may suggest that in healthy scenarios, the application of a cold pack after exercise may potentially result in negative effects on athletic performance.
Nemet, D., Y. Meckel, S. Bar-Sela, F. Zaldivar, D.M. Cooper, and A. Eliakim. Effect of local cold-pack application on systemic anabolic and inflammatory response to sprint-interval training: a prospective comparative trial. Eur J Appl Physiol 107:411 – 417. 2009.
Traditional Chinese Medicine does not favor cold packs application for injury treatment. The theory is that the “Chi” becomes sluggish and slowed down.
The application of cold pack seems to have a systemic effect, like enzymes or traumeel tablets. Therefore, I would recommend waiting for a couple of hours before ingesting certain supplements whose goal it is to reduce inflammation. It would be a shame to train hard and sabotage the possible gains!