The use of cold water immersion (CWI) for post-exercise recovery has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, however there is a dearth of strong scientific evidence to support the optimisation of protocols for performance benefits. While the increase in practice and popularity of CWI has led to multiple studies and reviews in the area of water immersion, this research has predominantly focused on performance outcomes associated with post-exercise CWI. Studies to date have generally shown positive results with enhanced recovery of performance. However, there are a small number of studies which have shown CWI to have either no effect or a detrimental effect on the recovery of performance. The rationale for such contradictory responses has received little attention but may be related to nuances associated with the individual which may need to be accounted for in optimising prescription of protocols. In order to recommend optimal protocols to enhance athletic recovery, research must provide a greater understanding of the physiology underpinning performance change and the factors which may contribute to the varied responses currently observed. This review focuses specifically on why some of the current literature may show variability and disparity in the effectiveness of CWI for recovery of athletic performance by examining the body temperature and cardiovascular responses underpinning CWI and how these are related to performance benefits. This review also examines how individual characteristics (such as physique traits), differences in water immersion protocol (depth, duration, temperature) and exercise type (endurance vs maximal) interact with these mechanisms.
International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance / Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.2-9