|The use of and effects of post-workout stretching and related purported recovery boosters on the adaptational response to sports is IMHO astonishingly under-researched (Barnett 2006).|
The latest issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology features not one, but rather a bunch of interesting and (in many cases) practically relevant papers. Reason enough for me to address them in this year’s first Exercise Research Update – a research update I will publish in form of two individual articles with the first one (the one you’re about to read) addressing recovery techniques and their potential role in modulating your training results.
More specifically, we are going to take a fresh look at the latest data related to the effects of different cooling techniques and the use of active recovery on your performance, size & strength gains… but now, without further delay, here’s the gist + implication for today’s studies.
- The use of cooling as a short-term intervention after endurance event – Cold water immersion or whole boy cryotherapy (Wilson 2018)? As a SuppVersity reader you have long been aware of the fact that cryo-therapy is by no means the super-beneficial recovery tool as which it is often portrayed in the (sports) media world (reread “Using Ice / Cold Water Immersion After Workouts Will Impair Muscle and Strength Gains, as well as Vascular Adaptations” | originally published in July 2015).
4x fail – if you look at the latest cold-water immersion science | more
Concerns about potential negative effects on the adaptational response to exercise exist (all rooted in science, by the way) for both: whole body cryotherapy (WBC) and cold water immersion (CWI). Against that background, it is a pity that Laura J. Wilson et al. had their thirty-one endurance trained perform only one exercise test to measure acute effects on recovery.
To do so, the participants were randomly assigned to a CWI, WBC or placebo group. Perceptions of muscle soreness, training stress and markers of muscle function were recorded before the marathon and at 24 and 48 h post exercise.
As previously hinted at, blood samples were taken exclusively at baseline, post intervention and 24 and 48 h post intervention – to make statements about the more problematic long-term effects of cryotherapy based on the data from the study at hand is thus not possible.
Figure 1: left – Comparison of changes in PT extension at 60° s− 1 as a percentage of baseline scores; right – Changes in perceptions of muscle soreness. Values are presented as mean± SD (Wilson 2018).
Even in the short run, however, WBC had a “harmful effect on muscle function” – allegedly, though, only when compared to CWI post marathon, which would thus be the go-to method for optimal acute muscle recovery after endurance events.
Or not? Well, for destressing (more psychological than physiological effect), WBC seems to have the competitive edge as it “positively influenced perceptions of training stress compared to CWI” (Wilson 2018). With the exception of C-reactive protein (CRP) at 24 and 48 h, neither cryotherapy intervention positively influenced blood-borne markers of inflammation or structural damage compared to placebo.
Implications: While the study does not address the problem of the anti-hormetic (=anti-adaptational) effects of the chronic use of cryotherapy, it does confirm that it can have benefits in the short term. In that, you should use the cold water over the (also less readily available) whole body cryotherapy as it appears to be the therapy with the greater (positive) impact on performance recovery – in fact, the observed differences between WBC and CWI suggest that the latter does in fact work, while the former is more or less just a placebo (with people being indoctrinated that CWI works, they feel recovered after going to the technically obviously more impressive process of whole body cryotherapy).
- Active recovery = improved hormonal response to exercise, but whether that’s more than a theoretical advantage is not clear, yet (Taipale 2018). From previous SuppVersity articles and the “Intermittent Thoughts About Building Muscle”, you, as a seasoned SuppVersity reader already know that the role of acute exercise-induced increases of testosterone, GH, and all the other alleged “muscle builders” do not affect the post-workout protein synthesis and thus your gains significantly. Whether and to which extent a certain workout will boost your T, GH and other hormone levels should thus not constitute the main criterion you use when you’re compiling your 2018 workout…
Studies in men suggest no effect of the hormonal response on training outcome – What about women? A new study provides insights that may be relevant for both female and male gymrats, but do not change how you should approach your workout planning wrt exercise selection, volume, etc. | learn more.
… and still: a systematic (positive or negative) effect could – in the long rung – have physiologically relevant effects. You may remember the West-study I discussed in my latest article about the “Hormonal Response to Exercise” [(re-)read] and its interaction with your mood, effort & performance. The study is what I would call the seminal paper in this context and it shows that there are no clear-cut correlations between the acute testosterone response to workouts and the individual effects on size and strength.
In other words, the guy whose testosterone “explodes” after a workout is not (systematically) gaining more size and strength than the guy whose testosterone levels hardly budge in the hours after the workout (chronically elevated/lowered levels do obviously count, see “Intermittent Thoughts” for details).
Keep that in mind when you interpret the results of a recent study from the Sciences University of Jyväskylä and the National Defense University in Finnland (Taipale 2018). The researchers’ goal was to examine “the acute hormonal and muscular responses to a strenuous strength loading [bilateral leg press (LP) 10 × 10 1RM] followed by loading-specific active (AR, n = 7, LP 10 × 10 × 30% 1RM) or passive (PR, n = 11, seated) recovery” (Taipale 2018).
Figure 2: Graphical illustration of the study design (Taipale 2018).
To this ends, they recruited a group of young men (26 ± 4 years, height: 174 ± 8 cm, body mass: 75 ± 13 kg) who were assigned to either an active or a passive recovery group. Practically speaking, this meant that
- the 7 subjects in the AR group performed light bilateral leg presses (10 sets of 10) at an intensity of 30% of their 1RM, while…
- the 11 guys who ended up in the passive recovery (PR) group didn’t use any specific (exercise-based) recovery techniques.
The authors’ analyses of the measurements they took pre- and post-loading as well as post-recovery and on the next morning shows a significantly higher absolute concentration (p < 0.05) of serum luteinizing hormone (LH) in AR compared to PR at the next morning.
Figure 3: Effects of recovery modality on luteinizing hormone (left) and testosterone (right | Taipale 2018).
Moreover, significant differences in relative hormonal responses to the loading were observed at next morning with greater responses observed in AR than in PR in terms of LH, and T (p < 0.05).
The acutely more relevant and practically significant performance markers (maximal bilateral isometric force (MVC) and countermovement jump height (CMJ)), on the other hand, decreased significantly (p < 0.001) from the control measurements in both AR and PR – without inter-group differences immediately post and/or on the next morning. No significant inter-group differences were also observed in serum testosterone (T), cortisol (C) or sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG).
Implications: While the authors rightly point out that “[f]rom a hormonal perspective, the present AR method appears to have had some favorable effects following the strenuous strength loading” (Taipale et al.), we must not forget that the only definitely relevant recovery/adaptational effect that was assessed, i.e. the acute decreases in muscular force production did not significantly differ between groups. Future studies will have to expand on the long-term effects and whether the adaptational response is improved or impaired. Based on the acute post-workout response, alone, it’s unfortunately impossible to answer this important question.
- Barnett, Anthony. “Using recovery modalities between training sessions in elite athletes.” Sports medicine 36.9 (2006): 781-796.
- Taipale, R.S., Kyröläinen, H., Gagnon, S.S. et al. Eur J Appl Physiol (2018) 118: 123. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3753-3
- Wilson, Laura J., et al. “Recovery following a marathon: a comparison of cold water immersion, whole body cryotherapy, and a placebo control.” European journal of applied physiology (2017): 1-11.