European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 113, Issue 2, pp 371–384 | Cite as

Consecutive days of cold water immersion: effects on cycling performance and heart rate variability

  • Jamie Stanley
  • Jonathan M. Peake
  • Martin Buchheit
Original Article


We investigated performance and heart rate (HR) variability (HRV) over consecutive days of cycling with post-exercise cold water immersion (CWI) or passive recovery (PAS). In a crossover design, 11 cyclists completed two separate 3-day training blocks (120 min cycling per day, 66 maximal sprints, 9 min time trialling [TT]), followed by 2 days of recovery-based training. The cyclists recovered from each training session by standing in cold water (10 °C) or at room temperature (27 °C) for 5 min. Mean power for sprints, total TT work and HR were assessed during each session. Resting vagal-HRV (natural logarithm of square-root of mean squared differences of successive RR intervals; ln rMSSD) was assessed after exercise, after the recovery intervention, during sleep and upon waking. CWI allowed better maintenance of mean sprint power (between-trial difference [90 % confidence limits] +12.4 % [5.9; 18.9]), cadence (+2.0 % [0.6; 3.5]), and mean HR during exercise (+1.6 % [0.0; 3.2]) compared with PAS. ln rMSSD immediately following CWI was higher (+144 % [92; 211]) compared with PAS. There was no difference between the trials in TT performance (−0.2 % [−3.5; 3.0]) or waking ln rMSSD (−1.2 % [−5.9; 3.4]). CWI helps to maintain sprint performance during consecutive days of training, whereas its effects on vagal-HRV vary over time and depend on prior exercise intensity.


Autonomic nervous system Training block High-intensity cycling Sprints Post-exercise recovery Hydrotherapy 



Confidence interval


Cold water immersion


Effect size


Heart rate


Mean heart rate


Peak heart rate


Heart rate immediately following the recovery intervention


Heart rate immediately following the laboratory training session


Heart rate upon waking


Heart rate variability

ln rMSSD

Natural logarithm of the square-root of mean squared differences of successive RR intervals

ln rMSSD(post-session)

ln rMSSD immediately following the laboratory training session

ln rMSSD(post-recovery)

ln rMSSD immediately following the recovery intervention

ln rMSSD(sleep)

ln rMSSD during estimated slow wave sleep

ln rMSSD(wake)

ln rMSSD upon waking


Passive recovery


Peak power output


Rating of perceived exertion




Peak oxygen uptake



The authors would like to acknowledge and thank the cyclists for their generous time commitment and effort throughout the study. This study was supported by the Centre of Excellence for Applied Sport Science Research at the Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jamie Stanley
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jonathan M. Peake
    • 1
    • 3
  • Martin Buchheit
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre of Excellence for Applied Sport Science ResearchQueensland Academy of SportBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Human Movement StudiesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biomedical SciencesQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Physiology Unit, Sport Science Department, AspireAcademy for Sports ExcellenceDohaQatar

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