Whole body cryotherapy, cold water immersion, or a placebo following resistance exercise: a case of mind over matter?



The use of cryotherapy as a recovery intervention is prevalent amongst athletes. Performance of high volume, heavy load resistance exercise is known to result in disturbances of muscle function, perceptual responses and blood borne parameters. Therefore, this study investigated the influence of cold water immersion (CWI), whole body cryotherapy (WBC) or a placebo (PL) intervention on markers of recovery following an acute resistance training session.


24 resistance trained males were matched into a CWI (10 min at 10 °C), WBC (3- and 4 min at − 85 °C) or PL group before completing a lower body resistance training session. Perceptions of soreness and training stress, markers of muscle function, inflammation and efflux of intracellular proteins were assessed before, and up to 72 h post exercise.


The training session resulted in increased soreness, disturbances of muscle function, and increased inflammation and efflux of intracellular proteins. Although WBC attenuated soreness at 24 h, and positively influenced peak force at 48 h compared to CWI and PL, many of the remaining outcomes were trivial, unclear or favoured the PL condition. With the exception of CRP at 24 h, neither cryotherapy intervention attenuated the inflammatory response compared to PL.


There was some evidence to suggest that WBC is more effective than CWI at attenuating select perceptual and functional responses following resistance training. However, neither cryotherapy intervention was more effective than the placebo treatment at accelerating recovery. The implications of these findings should be carefully considered by individuals employing cryotherapy as a recovery strategy following heavy load resistance training.

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Fig. 1



Creatine kinase-M


Counter movement jump


C-reactive protein


Cold water immersion


Daily analysis of the lifestyle demands of athletes


Dual X-say absorptiometry


Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay




Maximal voluntary isometric contraction




Rate of force development


Repetition maximum


Reactive strength index


Tumour necrosis factor-α


Whole body cryotherapy


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No external funding was received for this work.

Author information




LW, EC and LD conceived and designed research. LW, EC and LD conducted experiments. LW, EC, FH and MG analysed data. LW wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laura J. Wilson.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by George Havenith.

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Wilson, L.J., Dimitriou, L., Hills, F.A. et al. Whole body cryotherapy, cold water immersion, or a placebo following resistance exercise: a case of mind over matter?. Eur J Appl Physiol 119, 135–147 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-018-4008-7

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  • Muscle damage
  • Muscle function
  • Inflammation
  • Resistance training