The ice method cometh: Is cold water therapy revolutionary, a waste of time, or actually dangerous?

For decades, athletes have been dunking their race-weary limbs in icy water, but now the practice is a wellness craze too. Rob Kemp puts the hype on ice and examines the evidence

Belgian Remco Evenepoel of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl takes an ice-bath after the fourth stage of the 2022 edition of the 'Vuelta a Espana',
Remco Evenepoel takes an ice-bath after the fourth stage of the 2022 edition of the Vuelta a Espana
(Image credit: Alamy)

Cold plunges, high-street cryotherapy chambers and the much-publicised Wim Hof method have made freezing recovery therapies a hot topic. Can short, sharp exposures to very cold temperatures really benefit cyclists, or do the related risks – not to mention to the discomfort – outweigh any potential gains? 

“We use cold water immersion during the summer Tours and its chief benefits are body cooling in the heat and faster muscle recovery after exercise,” Loïc Cuigniez, medic with team Lotto-Dstny tells Cycling Weekly. “The cold baths induce an anti-inflammatory response, reducing secondary muscle damage and enhancing muscle recovery. Since heat also adds extra stress to the heart, the sooner the riders cool down, the better they recover.” 

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Rob Kemp
Freelance Writer

Rob Kemp is a London-based freelance journalist with 30 years of experience covering health and fitness, nutrition and sports sciences for a range of cycling, running, football and fitness publications and websites. His work also appears in the national press and he's the author of six non-fiction books. His favourite cycling routes include anything along the Dorset coast, Wye Valley or the Thames, with a pub at the finish.