What about Cold Exposure for Recovery?

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about cold thermogenesis lately. If not, you will soon, as it’s become quite popular!

Thermogenesis is how your body produces heat to keep you warm. Cold thermogenesis is when you expose yourself to cold intentionally to kick this process into overdrive, as your body works harder in cold settings to regulate your core temperate and maintain homeostasis. Since your body has to produce more energy to stay warm, in theory, it uses more calories and stimulates your metabolism. As such, many people now believe that exposure to cold can improve your recovery post-exercise, allowing you to enjoy better training sessions and contributing to better performance over time.

After you exercise, your body has an inflammatory response that is meant to support tissue repair, which is followed by an anti-inflammatory response. Cold thermogenesis may aid the anti-inflammatory response and mitigate the inflammatory response.

While is this good news for a variety of workouts, it’s important to note that this effect can be a negative for strength training. One trial published in the The Journal of Physiology found that having cold water therapy right after strength training blunts strength adaptations and strength training (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26174323/). This suggests that your body’s inflammatory response might be good for strength gains and optimal mass gains, and therefore it should not be inhibited if mass and strength are your primary workout goals.

Another study from the PLOS One medical journal (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233540/) showed that cold exposure enhanced muscle recovery, aided the anti-inflammatory response and toned down the regular inflammatory response in elite runners.

One other notable feature of cold therapy is that it appears to increase mitochondrial biogenesis. Adding mitochondria to your muscle cells increases your muscle’s aerobic capacity, and this may play a role in the performance enhancements seen in many of the studies done on performance and cold therapy.

Of course, more research is still needed in this area, but if you are working to boost your cardio fitness or are an endurance athlete, cold thermogenesis may just boost your recovery and performance over time. However, when you are training to increase your strength and size, the current research is suggesting that you should avoid using cold exposure to aid your recovery, at least right after you train. Consider adding cold therapy to your recovery time after the right workouts to help boost your performance.