By Nico de Villiers
Posted: Updated:

In this article I will have a brief look at a couple of popular recovery methods, what the current research says about them and how, if at all, are the beneficial to the recovery proses.

Cold water immersion

The dreaded ice bath.  Some players love it while others hate it. I have seen teams that force players to do ice baths post training on a Thursday or they have to pay a fine of R1000 if they miss it. Surely this then must be the gold standard of recovery methods…or is it? Forcing players into an ice bath in the middle of winter when they have less than 10% body fat might be closer to a human rights violation than a recovery intervention.

What is Cold Water Immersion?

Cold Water Immersion (CWI), otherwise known as ice-baths, is a recovery process involving the immersion of the body into cold water (normally below 15˚C) immediately after exercise in an attempt to enhance the recovery process. These methods have been shown to enhance recovery in some cases but the effectiveness thereof varies.

So does ice bath really improve recovery?

Research has investigated several recovery variables and the effect the ice baths have on them. The variables can be categorised into subjected measurement and objective measurements.






Subjective measurements are more related to player’s personal experience and pain tolerance while objective measurements are more physiologically (muscle damage) based.

CWI has been shown to consistently reduce the effects of DOMS and RPE, but its effects on objective measures are far less apparent.

It would appear that CWI is non a clear cut tool to use for physiological enhancing recovery, but rather something to use for player that perceive it to work for them.


The nuts and bolts of CWI:

Although the effect of CWI is not fully understood, there are some sound theories out there on how it works.

  • Vasoconstriction (blood vessel constriction)
    • Reduce inflammatory response


  • Analgesic (pain relieving) effect of the cold water
    • Reduction interpretation of pain


  • Reducing inflammatory pathways:
    • Reduced exercise induce oedema and white blood cell access


  • Placebo effect
    • Reduced perception of pain


  • Hydrostatic pressure
    • Increased cardiac output = increased blood flow and metabolism of waste products that accumulate during exercise.
    • The buoyancy = reduce fatigue by lowering neuro-muscular signalling and improving energy conservation


Practical Application

·         Temperature

o   Optimal temperature is between 8-15 ˚C, but using a mean of 11˚C is currently the practice to capitalise upon any effect caused by lower (8˚C) or higher (15˚C) temperatures used during CWI

·         Duration

o   Research suggest optimal immersion time to be between 11-15min, but since this is not a practical solution for large team, a duration between 1-15min could be used, but it’s unclear what the possible advantages could be for shorter times

·         Immersion depth

o   The deeper the better and would be optimal to be in upright position


Compression Garments 


This tool has become synonym with rugby players over the last couple of years. They vary from the big names like SKINS that we see on the pro players, up to long tights that you would see with players at your local club teams.

Not all garments are created equal and to my knowledge the most reliable ones available are probably SKINS.

What is compression garments?

Compression garments are tight, compressive forms of clothing, often made out of elastic and nylon, which are designed to enhance recovery. They are worn in an attempted to improve recovery and enhance performance by athletes for various sporting codes. This belief is based on the following theories:








So what does the research say?

  • Inflammatory response
    • Inconclusive, but some research suggest it is effective
  • Creatine Kinase
    • Effective to reduce CK, but could be because of increase circulation
  • Cardiovascular function
    • No effect on the delivery and utilisation of oxygen
  • Proprioception
    • Can be effective in improving proprioception, but studies not directly done on garments but compression bandage
  • Placebo effect
    • Small or non-significant (Surprisingly)
  • Performance
    • Effective for chronic recovery of muscle strength and power between session
    • Not effective for acute recovery during training
    • No negative effect on performance


Practical Application

Compression garments can have a positive effect on recovery and performance. I would however advise that this method for recovery only be supplementary to additional recovery methods. The best protocol to use (timing, how long, how tight it should be) is still not established. The good news is that there is no proof the garments do any harm to recovery and performance.


Foam rolling 


What is foam rolling?

First of all, from what we can gather from research, foam rolling is not self-myofascial release. The process of releasing and lengthening facia it is much more intense and complex that merely rolling on a piece of foam. So what is the point of foam rolling then? Well there is sufficient evidence that it does help with the following:

  • Increase flexibility
  • Have a positive impact in reducing DOMS and enhance recovery
  • Some evidence for improving short term athletic performance


So what does the research say?

Foam rolling has been proven effective for both short term (10min) and chronic increase in ROM, depending on how often it is used. 20 Sec of rolling seems to be the optimal time with no real difference between 20-60 sec of rolling.

For a long time foam rolling have been used as a recovery tool in an attempted to enhance recovery, unfortunately there is no real evidence to support this. There has been however positive results in improving DOMS in athletes post training. This remains a subjective measure and should be used by individuals who feel that it helps them.

In recent years, foam rollers have been replacing static stretching in the warm up routine. This is due to the findings that static stretching could have a negative effect on force production, power output, reaction time and running speed. Fortunately there has been no indication that foam rolling does the same thing and there have been reports that in fact it enhances speed, strength and power when used in conjunction with dynamic movements in warm up.

 Practical Application

The biggest plus for foam rolling is that to our knowledge it does not negatively affect performance. Whether you use it before training for short term increase in ROM or after training for reducing the sensation of DOMS, the foam roller have a place in both the warm up and cool down routines’ of athletes.


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