Adequate recovery is extremely important after strenuous exercise, and arguably even more important than the exercise itself. In order to fully benefit from exercise and to maximise training frequency, athletes employ a variety of recovery strategies, one of which is contrast (hot and cold) water therapy (CWT). This is the process of exposing the fatigued area of the body to water of alternating hot and cold temperatures for an extended period of time.
Some experts believe this method to be effective in reducing muscle soreness after exercise, and that it can also increase the rate of recovery, meaning the deficit in performance caused by fatigue will be reduced.
While the exact physiological mechanism of this not fully understood, the general consensus is that the alternating temperatures cause vasodilation (widening) and vasoconstriction (narrowing) of blood vessels, creating a “pumping” effect which aids the removal of post-exercise waste products, such as lactic acid. From a coaching and athletic perspective, this increased rate of recovery is most beneficial during periods of high training frequency or during competition when physical demands on athletes are at their highest.
From a sports therapy perspective, the use of recovery modalities such as this can result in a decrease in injury occurrence, as sports injuries are more likely to occur when an athlete is fatigued.
However great or small the effects of CWT are, athletes who have a particularly demanding training schedule should consider its use, as any advantage that can be gained over an opponent during competition would, no doubt, be more than welcome.