IT WAS amazing to see so many people from the community get behind the ‘Big Freeze’ recently.
The event involved local identities sliding into icy cold water to raise a huge amount of money for the ’fight MND’ charity.
The premise for the day was that entering freezing cold water in the middle of winter is a pretty bloody uncomfortable thing to do, but the participants were willing to put themselves through the pain for such a wonderful cause.
Given just how uncomfortable it is entering cold water in the middle of winter, you would be forgiven for scratching your head and questioning the sanity of the group of people I saw voluntarily wading out into the Murray river early last Sunday morning.
I recognised a few of them as local footballers.
They were completing a process called ‘cold water immersion therapy’ in the hope of accelerating their recovery from a hard game the day before.
But does this process actually work?
If you are a motivated local sportsperson keen to get the best out of yourself this season, should you consider wandering into your local freezing river or pool following your weekly sport?
Not long after graduating, I remember asking my boss, who had more than a decade of experience working with professional AFL teams, what he thought of the practice.
“Of course they work,” was his reply.
“But it has nothing to do with getting in the cold water,” he added.
“If they know they have to be in Port Phillip Bay at 6am they will all drink about six fewer beers after the game – and thus their recovery is much improved.”
He may have been wrong however, as the actual process of getting into the cold water does appear to help recovery.
Several recent studies have shown athletes who use cold water immersion therapy report reduced muscle soreness in the days after exercise compared to those who do not.
The same studies report conflicting findings as to whether the practice results in a faster return of strength, speed or performance.
So more research is needed before we will know for sure.
It is not entirely clear how cold water immersion reduces delayed muscle soreness.
There are plausible theories that it might be due to flushing out lactic acid, reducing inflammation or desensitising nerves.
There is also a theory that it might mostly be due to a placebo effect.
Just like a sugar pill will reduce someone’s pain if they are told it is a strong painkiller, the benefits of spending time in the cold water may be psychological if the athlete believes the process will be of benefit.
Whatever the mechanism, it does reduce delayed muscle soreness.
So if you are a local athlete, I think it is a pretty smart thing to add to your routine.
Less soreness can only result in higher quality training sessions through the week, reduce your risk of injury and can only improve your performance the following weekend.
I suggest following the Australian Institute of Sport guidelines.
They recommend the water should be between 10-15C and you should stay in it for 5-10 minutes.
While they recommend you get in within 30 minutes of your game ending, I find waiting until the following day achieves similar benefits, so it is probably just as worthwhile.
However it is worth noting, while cold water immersion can be of benefit, it does not have anywhere near as much effect on your recovery as other (much warmer) factors, such as a good night’s sleep, rehydration, a good hearty meal, minimising alcohol consumption and doing something active the next day.
Despite what you might hope, a 10-minute icy dip will not undo the damage 14 beers, a late night kebab and a Sunday spent hungover in bed will do after you find yourself getting a little carried away celebrating a big win.