By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)
Be cool like Ice Man and recover faster.
ICEMAN: You two really are cowboys.
MAVERICK: What’s your problem, Kazanski?
ICEMAN: You’re everyone’s problem. That’s because every time you go up in the air, you’re unsafe. I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.
MAVERICK: That’s right! Ice… man. I am dangerous.
I (like I’m sure many of the RU readers) am a MMA fan. One of the aspects of the sport of MMA that fascinates me besides the fight itself is the actual training protocol leading up to a fight. Because of all the skill sets that go into MMA, the training volume required of fighters is quite large. That is why I would argue that it is not all about workouts leading up to the fight but rather recovery from the workouts leading up to the fight.
One technique a few astute fighters and other top athletes use is Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC). For those of you who follow Tim Kennedy, you can find some footage of him using the latest technology of cryotherapy helping his recovery from training for his upcoming fight (starts at 3:15). The thought behind this practice is that ice, as we know, blunts inflammation so it should do the same for inflammation caused by a hard training session just like it would an injury. WBC involves a cold air blast of -166 to -220 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-4 minutes while the athlete stands in a chamber with the treatment occurring from the neck down. Pretty cool stuff, but before you go all “Han Solo” let’s look at the science.
In a study involving rugby players that looked at blood markers of muscle damage from exercise, the researchers found that when players underwent WBC, markers associated with inflammation decreased while anti-inflammatory markers increased. So it appears WBC improved the rugger’s ability to recover from workouts.
A Review of WBC in Athletes by Banfi et al examined not only the efficacy of WBC but also the safety. Below I listed some of the key findings:
1. WBC reduces the breakdown of blood cells caused by training.
2. WBC does not cause harmful oxidative stress.
3. WBC is not detrimental to the immune system
4. WBC does indeed decrease inflammatory markers while increasing anti-inflammatory markers (stated in aforementioned research).
5. WBC does not negatively impact cardiac function.
6. WBC does not negatively impact endocrine function.
Based on the above findings, you can easily see why Mr. Kennedy and other athletes would use WBC as part of their athletic performance program. Now you may think, “ I do not have access nor can I afford fancy WBC treatments but I still want to recover faster.” Well my friend, you are in luck because research also shows that a bathtub or garbage can filled with ice water will also get the job done.
Another study involving highly trained BJJ fighters who immersed their body in an ice bath post training for 19 minutes received similar results as the WBC athletes previously discussed. Not only were markers of inflammation reduced, but cold water immersed athletes were able to maintain isometric strength better than the non-treated athletes and report less muscle soreness. Less inflammation, less muscle soreness, and maintain isometric strength; tell me – has being cold ever sounded so good?
Jumping into an ice bath right after a hard workout can be a chilly proposition, just as Ice Man’s disposition was when first meeting Maverick. However if you push past the initial discomfort you will be rewarded with quicker recovery, much like Maverick was rewarded with a new wingman.
ICEMAN: You can be my wingman any time.
MAVERICK: Bullshit! You can be mine.