Webinar Recap: The Use of Water Immersion for Recovery

Webinar Recap: The Use of Water Immersion for Recovery

On December 20, we hosted a webinar from Nick Held, M.Hk, CSCS, Research and Development Manager at Hydrathletics in Kingston, Ontario. Nick’s experience with aquatics for athletics is far reaching and he has done extensive research on using water immersion for recovery. He shared many of his findings to spark discussion on the use of water immersion.

First, it is important to define “recovery” for this webinar’s purposes. According to Nick, recovery equals performance recovery, not joint recovery which is focused on optimizing the individuals’ response to exercise. Many experts will state that 90% of recovery comes from:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Rehydration
  3. Sleep

That leaves only 10% of recovery up to other modalities, such as water immersion. Nick describes the different types of water immersion as:

  • Thermoneutral
  • Contrast
  • Cold water
  • Warm water

There are a few key properties of water immersion which determine the effect it has on an athlete. Specifically, Nick focused on the following two:

  1. Hydrostatic pressure is possibly the most important mechanism that affects recovery because it:
    1. Displaces fluid
    2. Decreases edema
    3. Increases cardiac output, without an increase in metabolic demand
    4. Reduces peripheral resistance
    5. Reduces perception of fatigue
    6. Possibly increases blood flow
  2. Temperature is another key factor with different effects from cool and warm temperatures.
    1. Cooler temperatures:
      1. Decrease heart rate (stays in central location) and cardiac output
      2. Increase arterial blood pressure and peripheral resistance
      3. Increase in oxygen consumption and metabolism
      4. Reduce inflammation and pain
    2. Warmer temps:
      1. Increase heart rate
      2. Reuduce cardiac filling time and stroke volume
      3. Increase blood flow
      4. Possibly increase inflammation

Some additional research that Nick provided stated that cold water immersion was more effective than whole body cryotherapy in accelerating recovery kinetics for counter movement jump performance. Additionally, athletes using cold water immersion demonstrated lower soreness and higher perceived recovery in 24-48 hours post exercise compared to cryotherapy. Whole body cryotherapy has a negative impact on muscle function, perceptions of soreness and number of blood numbers.  The main difference between the two being that water immersion provides hydrostatic pressure.

There are many variables that make it difficult to determine positive effects of water immersion, and finding research about it is difficult. This is partially because of the many variables included under the term “water immersion,” and also what is being assessed as a part of “recovery.” Nick proposes the true goals of recovery are:

  • Long-term athlete development
  • Relatively immediate athlete performance

View the webinar on-demand here>>



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