Enhanced recovery following physical activity and exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) has become a priority for athletes. Consequently, a number of post-exercise recovery strategies are used, often without scientific evidence of their benefits. Within this framework, the purpose of this study was to test the efficacy of whole body cryotherapy (WBC), far infrared (FIR) or passive (PAS) modalities in hastening muscular recovery within the 48 hours after a simulated trail running race.
In 3 non-adjoining weeks, 9 well-trained runners performed 3 repetitions of a simulated trail run on a motorized treadmill, designed to induce muscle damage. Immediately (post), post 24 h, and post 48 h after exercise, all participants tested three different recovery modalities (WBC, FIR, PAS) in a random order over the three separate weeks. Markers of muscle damage (maximal isometric muscle strength, plasma creatine kinase [CK] activity and perceived sensations [i.e. pain, tiredness, well-being]) were recorded before, immediately after (post), post 1 h, post 24 h, and post 48 h after exercise. In all testing sessions, the simulated 48 min trail run induced a similar, significant amount of muscle damage.
Maximal muscle strength and perceived sensations were recovered after the first WBC session (post 1 h), while recovery took 24 h with FIR, and was not attained through the PAS recovery modality. No differences in plasma CK activity were recorded between conditions.
Three WBC sessions performed within the 48 hours after a damaging running exercise accelerate recovery from EIMD to a greater extent than FIR or PAS modalities.