Impairment of exercise performance following cold water immersion is not attenuated after 7 days of cold acclimation



It is well-documented that severe cold stress impairs exercise performance. Repeated immersion in cold water induces an insulative type of cold acclimation, wherein enhanced vasoconstriction leads to greater body heat retention, which may attenuate cold-induced exercise impairments. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to investigate changes in exercise performance during a 7-day insulative type of cold acclimation.


Twelve healthy participants consisting of eight males and four females (mean ± SD age: 25.6 ± 5.2 years, height: 174.0 ± 8.9 cm, weight: 75.6 ± 13.1 kg) performed a 20 min self-paced cycling test in 23 °C, 40% humidity without prior cold exposure. Twenty-four hours later they began a 7-day cold acclimation protocol (daily 90 min immersion in 10 °C water). On days one, four, and seven of cold acclimation, participants completed the same cycling test. Measurements of work completed, core and skin temperatures, heart rate, skin blood flow, perceived exertion, and thermal sensation were measured during each cycling test.


Successful insulative cold acclimation was observed. Work produced during the baseline cycling test (220 ± 70 kJ) was greater (p < 0.001) than all three tests that were performed following immersions (195 ± 58, 197 ± 60, and 194 ± 62 kJ) despite similar ratings of perceived exertion during each test, suggesting that cold exposure impaired cycling performance. This impairment, however, was not attenuated over the cold acclimation period.


Results suggest that insulative cold acclimation does not attenuate impairments in exercise performance that were observed following acute cold water immersion.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Analysis of variance

T core :

Core temperature



SBFforearm :

Forearm skin blood flow

T forearm :

Forearm skin temperature


Heart rate


Shivering sensation

SBFtemporal :

Temporal skin blood flow

T temporal :

Temporal skin temperature


Thermal sensation


  1. Abbiss CR, Laursen PB (2008) Describing and understanding pacing strategies during athletic competition. Sports Med 38:239–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Acevedo EO, Meyers MC, Hayman M, Haskin J (1997) Applying physiological principles and assessment techniques to swimming the English Channel. A case study. J Sports Med Phys Fit 37:78–85

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Benzinger TH (1969) Heat regulation: homeostasis of central temperature in man. Physiol Rev 49:671–759

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bergeron MF, Bahr R, Bartsch P, Bourdon L, Calbet JA, Carlsen KH et al (2012) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on thermoregulatory and altitude challenges for high-level athletes. Br J Sports Med 46:770–779

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bittel JH (1987) Heat debt as an index for cold adaptation in men. J Appl Physiol 62:1627–1634

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brandstrom H, Grip H, Hallberg P, Gronlund C, Angquist KA, Giesbrecht GG (2008) Hand cold recovery responses before and after 15 months of military training in a cold climate. Aviat Space Environ Med 79:904–908

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Budd GM, Brotherhood JR, Beasley FA, Hendrie AL, Jeffery SE, Lincoln GJ et al (1993) Effects of acclimatization to cold baths on men’s responses to whole-body cooling in air. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 67:438–49

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Clarke RS, Hellon RF, Lind AR (1958) The duration of sustained contractions of the human forearm at different muscle temperatures. J Physiol 143:454–73

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Fothergill DM, Taylor WF, Hyde DE (1998) Physiologic and perceptual responses to hypercarbia during warm- and cold-water immersion. Undersea Hyperb Med 25:1–12

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Fujimoto T, Sasaki Y, Wakabayashi H, Sengoku Y, Tsubakimoto S, Nishiyasu T (2016) Maximal workload but no peak oxygen uptake is decreased during immersed incremental exercise at cooler temperatures. Eur J Appl Physiol 116:1819–1827

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Geurts CL, Sleivert GG, Cheung SS (2006) Local cold acclimation during exercise and its effect on neuromuscular function of the hand. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 31:717–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Giesbrecht GG, Wu MP, White MD, Johnston CE, Bristow GK (1995) Isolated effects of peripheral arm and central body cooling on arm performance. Aviat Space Environ Med 66:968–75

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Glickman N, Mitchell HH, Keeton RW, Lambert EH (1967) Shivering and heat production in men exposed to intense cold. J Appl Physiol 22:1–8

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC (2008) Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest 31:587–91

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hoffman MD, Shepanski MA, Ruble SB, Valic Z, Buckwalter JB, Clifford PS (2004) Intensity and duration threshold for aerobic exercise-induced analgesia to pressure pain. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 85:1183–1187

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Jansky L, Janakova H, Ulicny B, Sramek P, Hosek V, Heller J et al (1996) Changes in thermal homeostasis in humans due to repeated cold water immersions. Pflugers Arch 432:368–72

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Koehle MS, Lepawsky M, McKenzie DC (2005) Pulmonary oedema of immersion. Sports Med 35:183–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Launay JC, Savourey G (2009) Cold adaptations. Ind Health 47:221–227

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Lieberman HR, Tharion WJ, Shukitt-Hale B, Speckman KL, Tulley R (2002). Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during US Navy SEAL training. Sea–air–land. Psychopharmacology 164:250–61

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Makinen TM (2010) Different types of cold adaptation in humans. Front Biosci 2:1047–1067

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. McArdle WD, Toner MM, Magel JR, Spina RJ, Pandolf KB (1992) Thermal responses of men and women during cold-water immersion: influence of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 65:265–70

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Muller MD, Kim CH, Bellar DM, Ryan EJ, Seo Y, Muller SM et al (2012) Effect of cold acclimatization on exercise economy in the cold. Eur J Appl Physiol 112:795–800

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Palombo LJ (2012) Severe drop in body core temperature following four cold water immersions. Med Sci Sports Exerc 44:740

    Google Scholar 

  24. Pugh L, Edholm O (2004) Excerpts from: the physiology of channel swimmers. Wilderness Environ Med 15:40–41

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Rintamaki H, Hassi J, Smolander J, Louhevaara V, Rissanen S, Oksa J et al (1993) Responses to whole body and finger cooling before and after an Antarctic expedition. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 67:380–384

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sargeant A (1987) Effect of muscle temperature on leg extension force and short-term power output in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 56:693–698

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Schlader ZJ, Simmons SE, Stannard SR, Mündel T (2011) Skin temperature as a thermal controller of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol 111:1631–1639

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Schniepp J, Campbell TS, Powell KL, Pincivero DM (2002) The effects of cold-water immersion on power output and heart rate in elite cyclists. J Strength Cond Res 16:561–566

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Sramek P, Simeckova M, Jansky L, Savlikova J, Vybiral S (2000) Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. Eur J Appl Physiol 81:436–42

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Tipton MJ (2016) Environmental extremes: origins, consequences, and amelioration in humans. Exp Physiol 101:1–14

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Tipton M, Bradford C (2014) Moving in extreme environments: open water swimming in cold and warm water. Extrem Physiol Med 3:12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Westerlund T, Oksa J, Smolander J, Mikkelsson M (2009) Neuromuscular adaptation after repeated exposure to whole-body cryotherapy (− 110 °C). J Therm Biol 34:226–31

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Wittmers LE, Savage MV (2001). Cold water immersion. Med Asp Harsh Environ 1:531–49

    Google Scholar 

  34. Young AJ (1996). Human adaptations to cold stress. Physiol Basis Occup Health Stressful Environ 53–67

  35. Young AJ, Muza SR, Sawka MN, Gonzalez RR, Pandolf KB (1986) Human thermoregulatory responses to cold air are altered by repeated cold water immersion. J Appl Physiol 60:1542–1548

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was funded by the Department of Defense.

Author information




Douglas M. Jones is the lead author and has contributed to the research design, data collection, data analysis, and writing of this manuscript. Bart Roelands, Stephen Bailey, Michael Buono, and Romain Meeusen have contributed to the research design, data analysis, and review and edit process for this manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Douglas M. Jones.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Statement of human rights

This study was approved by the San Diego State University Institutional Review Board (protocol # 1951098).

Additional information

Communicated by Narihiko Kondo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Jones, D.M., Roelands, B., Bailey, S.P. et al. Impairment of exercise performance following cold water immersion is not attenuated after 7 days of cold acclimation. Eur J Appl Physiol 118, 1189–1197 (2018).

Download citation


  • Cold
  • Exercise
  • Performance
  • Acclimation