Ice Baths After Training Limits Muscle Growth

Written by Kristen Dunsmore

October 16, 2023

Ice water baths have become an increasingly popular post-training recovery technique for athletes. Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or fitness enthusiast, you’ve probably considered adding ice baths into your recovery routine. Ice water baths, also known as cold-water immersion (CWI), involve submerging your body in icy water for a short period, usually immediately after a hard workout. While it may sound unpleasant, ice baths have gained popularity among fitness enthusiasts and athletes as a recovery technique because CWI is believed to reduce inflammation, decrease soreness, and accelerate recovery.

What are Ice Baths, and why are they recommended for recovery?

Ice baths and other forms of CWI work on the principle of vasoconstriction – the narrowing of blood vessels due to the cold. This process is followed by vasodilation when you exit the bath, and your body begins to warm up again.

There’s an assumption that ice baths can reduce inflammation and muscle soreness post-exercise (McFee., 2017). The cold temperatures reduce blood flow to the muscles, decreasing tissue temperature and potentially limiting the inflammatory response.

This can be invaluable for athletes racing against the clock to recover for another round of competition.


Here’s where things get a bit hazy.

The anti-inflammatory effects that make ice baths appealing may interfere with the body’s natural muscle adaptation processes (Peake et al., 2017). Though often villainized, inflammation is key in signaling the body to repair and grow stronger. By blunting this inflammatory response, ice baths and other forms of cryotherapy might be setting back some of the signaling pathways important for muscle growth (Tseng et al., 2013).

What does the research say about ice baths and muscle growth?

Fyfe et al. (2019) had sixteen men undertake resistance training for seven weeks. Post-training, participants were subjected to CWI or passive recovery (walking). Exercise outcomes were a one-repetition maximum (1-RM) for leg and bench press. Molecular reactions post-exercise were examined 1 hour and 48 hours after the training sessions.


  • Muscle Growth: Immersing yourself in cold water after exercising might slow muscle growth. Specifically, it reduced the size of type II muscle fibers after seven weeks of strength training.
  • Muscle Protein Balance: After exercising, our muscles normally increase protein production to repair and grow. Cold water interferes with this, making muscles produce less protein and break down more.
  • Strength: Despite the effect on muscle growth, there were no differences in strength. It’s important to note that some evidence suggests that post-exercise CWI might hinder strength development by affecting muscle growth(Roberts, 2015).

Fuchs et al. (2019) found similar results even after protein was given to participants after resistance training. Twelve healthy males underwent a resistance-type exercise session followed by immersing both legs in the water. While one leg enjoyed a thermoneutral water bath (30°C), the other was subjected to cold water (8°C). Participants then consumed a beverage packed with 20g of protein and 45g of carbohydrates. In the immediate aftermath, the CWI leg had a reduced capacity to absorb and utilize dietary protein-derived amino acids for muscle growth.


Immediate Aftermath: Cold-water immersed leg showed reduced capacity to absorb and utilize dietary protein-derived amino acids for muscle growth.

  • Short Term (5-hour recovery): Protein synthesis rates were notably lower in the cold-water immersed legs
  • Long Term (Two weeks): Daily muscle protein synthesis rates were consistently lower in the cold-water immersed leg.

What Does This Mean for Your Recovery Routine Post-Training?

Your decision to use CWI should hinge on your goals.

Do you have a competition coming up? The immediate benefits of reduced inflammation might be worth it during your taper week before a powerlifting competition, where the goal is to eliminate as much fatigue and inflammation as possible for maximal performance on the platform.

On a structured resistance training regime gunning for muscle hypertrophy? You might want to think twice, especially during the early stages of your program when adaptation signals are at their peak (Dupuy et al., 2018). The implications are clear: cold-water immersion during recovery from resistance-type exercise diminishes muscle protein synthesis rates. For those aiming for increased muscle growth, it might be time to reconsider. While the immediate relief from soreness is tempting, the potential long-term trade-offs concerning muscle growth are significant.

Wrapping Up

For all my gym buddies looking to beef up their biceps and max out their squats, I suggest reconsidering that post-workout plunge into the icy water. However, if you are an athlete needing quick recovery between high-intensity workouts or competitive events, ice baths could still be beneficial.

Ice baths are not a one-size-fits-all solution; instead, they are a tool whose efficacy depends on the context in which they are used. Beware of popular trends on social media. A nuanced approach is warranted as our understanding of their positive and negative effects continues to evolve. This way, you can ensure that your recovery strategies align with your needs and contribute proactively to your overall health and well-being.

Stay cool, stay informed, and keep lifting!



Fuchs, C. J., Kouw, I. W., Churchward‐Venne, T. A., Smeets, J. S., Senden, J. M., Lichtenbelt, W. D. V. M., van Loon, L. J. (2020). Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes. The Journal of physiology, 598(4), 755-772.

Fyfe, J. J., Broatch, J. R., Trewin, A. J., Hanson, E. D., Argus, C. K., Garnham, A. P., Petersen, A. C. (2019). Cold water immersion attenuates anabolic signaling and skeletal muscle fiber hypertrophy, but not strength gain, following whole-body resistance training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 127(5), 1403-1418.

McPhee, J. S., & Lightfoot, A. P. (2017). Post-exercise recovery regimes: blowing hot and cold. The Journal of physiology, 595(3), 627–628.

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., Raastad, T. (2017). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. The Journal of physiology, 595(3), 695-711.

Roberts, L. A., Raastad, T., Markworth, J. F., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I. M., Shield, A., Cameron-Smith, D., Coombes, J. S., & Peake, J. M. (2015). Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signaling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. The Journal of physiology, 593(18), 4285–4301.

Tseng, C. Y., Lee, J. P., Tsai, Y. S., Lee, S. D., Kao, C. L., Liu, T. C., Kuo, C. H. (2013). Topical cooling (icing) delays recovery from eccentric exercise–induced muscle damage. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(5), 1354-1361.

Wilcock, I. M., Cronin, J. B., & Hing, W. A. (2006). Physiological response to water immersion: a method for sport recovery? Sports medicine. 36(9), 747–765.








































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