Friday, January 1, 2016

The wrong way to grow muscles?

Ice baths are great for certain players after a brutal football game.

It's also a long-held belief that ice baths are the best way to recover after serious strength exercise sessions.  That might not be the case, though.  In fact,this popular recovery method may actually be hurting your muscle gains.

While ice baths have long been regarded as an excepted standard of muscle recovery, new research from Queensland University of Technology and The University of Queensland is suggesting otherwise.  In the study (published in the Journal of Physiology), researchers asked 21 physically active men to begin a strength-training regimen two days a week, for a period of 12 weeks.  About half the group endured a10-minute post-workout ice bath at a numbing 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while the rest had a warm-down on an exercise bike.

At the end of the 12 weeks, those who performed an active warm-down had more strength and muscle mass than those who cooled down in an ice bath.  A subsequent follow-up study took muscle biopsies from men after they performed single-leg strength exercises, then either took an ice bath or actively warmed down.  This time, researchers found that ice baths stunted activity within satellite cells - essentially muscle “stem cells” - and activity in pathways needed to build bigger, stronger muscles.

"We found that cold water immersion after training substantially attenuated, or reduced, long-term gains in muscle mass and strength," says Dr. Llion Roberts, one of the study authors.  The researchers surmise that athletes who use ice baths after workouts will see less long-term muscle growth than those who choose active warm-downs.  The reason why this happens isn’t altogether clear, but their best guess is that cold water immersion reduces muscle blood flow.

Bottom line:  While the cold water may numb your sore muscles and help heal injuries, it’s not the best recovery method after a strength session.

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