Wood-fired Sauna Session on now - Tue/Thur 6pm - 8pm // Sat/Sun 9am - 12pm -- Book Now!

Post-Workout Ice Bath: Are You Sacrificing Muscle Growth for Recovery?

Ice bath for recovery

A conversation sparked in the studio today about the post-workout ritual of ice bathing, prompted me to reflect further on the topic.

“Are You Sacrificing Muscle Growth for Recovery when taking an ice bath after your workout?” one of our clients asked. It’s an excellent question, but the answer isn’t straightforward: It depends…

Let’s dissect this question based on recent research by muscle growth expert Dr. Brad Schoenfield. In his research, Schoenfield and his team summarised 11 studies that looked at the effects of immediate cold water exposure following resistance training on muscle growth.

Study Limitations

Before diving into the findings, let’s address some key study limitations:

  1. Gender Imbalance: Shockingly, 92% of the study participants were men. It’s a reminder of the need for more gender diversity in science and research
  2. Age Disparity: The studies predominantly focused on young males, making it challenging to generalise findings across different demographics.
  3. Nutrition: None of the studies controlled for nutritional intake or even collected data on pre-workout meals, despite its significant influence on muscle growth. This oversight is crucial since ice baths can affect metabolic rates and nutrient transport

Now, onto the findings

Overall, the research indicated a slight blunting of muscle growth when participants indulged in post-resistance training ice baths, and these findings were statistically significant. However, the exact cause of this reduction remains a mystery since none of the studies explored the mechanisms causing the reduction. Researchers speculate that it could be attributed to redirected blood flow to the skin, impeding nutrient transport to muscles, or the reduction of inflammation, which has been linked to muscle growth.

So, when should you skip the post-workout ice bath? We recommend refraining if:

  • You are a bodybuilder focused on growth.
  • You just started working out and are after rapid muscle development.
  • Your workout frequency is less than three times a week, aiming to maximise muscle growth within limited training sessions.
  • Maximising muscle growth is your primary objective for any other reason.

In these instances, consider moving your ice bath to your pre-workout routine or separating cold plunges from your exercise routine altogether.

When could ice bathing still be a good idea post-workout? 

There are plenty of situations when ice bathing post workout can still be effective. Specifically, if:

  1. Your main priority is reducing muscle soreness and inflammation. 
  2. You are trying to lose weight.
  3. You are working out 4x a week or more.
  4. You have or had some form of chronic inflammation.

In these cases, the benefits of ice bathing may trump the slight reduction in muscle growth.

In summary, if one of your key priorities is building muscle fast, then it might be a good idea to consider shifting your ice bath away from your post-workout routine. But we would suggest taking these findings with a grain of salt since there were multiple key limitations including gender and age balance. After all, do what feels right for you!

Want to dip your toes into the many benefits that a regular ice bath routine provides? Give us a call or book in a session with us now! We will develop an ice bath routing for you that suits your specific goals and lifestyle!