Summer is nearly upon us and that means the gyms are packed with people striving for guns bursting out of their sleeves and rippling abs to show off at the pool. With CrossFit being one of the fastest growing spots in the world at over 4 million members and bodybuilding the biggest it’s ever been, muscle size and strength goals are going nowhere.
Let’s address the title: does cold immersion impact muscle growth and should it be avoided if you’re looking to gain muscle mass?
Yes, and no.
Our ice baths are used by athletes across the UK as an essential part of their physical recovery. If you’re specifically aiming to build muscle, read on.
Cold Exposure and Muscle Growth
In short, yes, the cold can slow down your gains if you’re timing it wrong. According to a study, exposing muscles to cold temperatures, like those in an ice bath, ‘could’ limit the activation of key signaling pathways responsible for muscle protein synthesis.
If you’ve just been pumping some iron then a cold dip straight after could slow down the resultant growth in muscle, but won’t inhibit it.
Why should you still do it?
We’ve been programmed to consider the cold uncomfortable. Exercising to the point of a one rep max, smashing a personal best or growing calves of steel is also uncomfortable. The more resilience you build in one area, the easier you’re able to to overcome difficulties in another. What’s an extra rep when you can handle a minute in the ice?
The cold drastically reduces inflammation and muscle soreness. After a sports massage I’m usually sore for a good week after being aggressively pummeled into a normal posture but when using the ice I experience no pain!
Faster recovery for more workouts:
If you’re putting your body under regular stress with frequent workouts and endurance training like running, biking and regular workouts, quick recovery is key to being able to put the extra milage in the next day without excessive soreness.
When should I use the cold then?
If you’ve just completed a heavy strength workout then getting straight into the cold could indeed slow down your gains. You should wait two hours after strength training to get the benefits of speeding up your recovery with the least impact on your bulging biceps.
If you do have a sore point then you could immerse just that part of your body in the ice for immediate relief. CrossFit icon and Men’s Health Cover Model dips his arms in 10-15 minutes after his workout
If you’ve just completed a cardio workout, however, you’re good to get straight in for maximum recovery. Mo Farah uses the cold soon after races and in his training to reduce inflammation.
We absolutely don’t recommend hitting the weights to warm up after as your grip strength will be impaired and you could end up dropping a dumbbell on yourself. Warm up wil some walking, air squats, lunges and non-weighted movements.
Short-term or ‘beginners gains’ could come slower if you don’t wait a couple of hours before cold exposure. Long-term you’ll be able to get in more workouts and heavier weights with a quicker recovery time, leading to the gains you always dreamed of.