Cold Therapy For Strength

Cold Therapy For Strength

Some findings at Stanford University indicate that keeping cool might provide serious boosts to muscular endurance and strength.  Please not that this is not from research but some ad hoc testing done in the lab.  They found that one bodybuilder went from 160 pullups max to 620 pullups over a 6 week period using this “cool-therapy”, thats a lot more improvement than can be explained away by placebo effect.

In 2009, it was discovered that muscle pyruvate kinase, or MPK, an enzyme that muscles need in order to generate chemical energy, was highly temperature- sensitive. At normal body temperature, the enzyme is active – but as temperatures rise, some of the enzyme begins to deform into the inactive state. By the time muscle temperatures near 104 degrees Fahrenheit, MPK activity completely shuts down.

There’s a very good biological reason for this shutdown. As a muscle cell increases its activity, it heats up. But if this process continues for too long, the cell will self-destruct. By shutting itself down below a critical temperature threshold, MPK serves as an elegant self-regulation system for the muscle.

This is crying out for some real research but it seems to make sense as the above excerpt from the Stanford publication indicates.  So, whats the take home message?  Its probably a bit pre-mature to do ice cube baths between sets but its certainly worth doing the following (which I personally have always done anyway):

  • Drink *lots* of water and make sure you are fully hydrated before you start working out
  • Drink ice water during your workout
  • If you have control of the thermostat, turn it way down
  • Wear loose fitting shorts and a loose fitting tank top if you workout in a gym.  If you workout at home, wear as little as you can without the neighbors starting rumors.
  • If your gym is hot, like many are then find a fan or find a different gym
  • Do *not* wear “fat suits”, sweat shirts, or sweat pants!

I’d like to reiterate not going overboard with this as I mention, there is no research on this – its just one experiment they did with one bodybuilder.  The ice cube bath is a really bad idea.  Getting that cold and then working out is a recipe for muscle pulls.


Thanks to Ben Lowman on facebook for bringing this to my attention.

Cold Therapy For Rapid Strength Gains


22 thoughts on “Cold Therapy For Strength”

  1. The fun fact is that if we turn this around , heat beeing bad for your work outs everyone would agree , who does alot of effort when the themprature is murdering you?
    ofcourse the results are amazing yet there is a firm case of logic to be found here if you ask me with some stunning results to be honest :)

  2. I can attest to this. In Afghanistan, our gym was blown up, so we had to workout outdoors until we could get a replacement. After new tents were built with brand new supercool AC units, I found my lifts went WAAAAYYYY up.

  3. I figured this out awhile back, when I workout at home it’s in an AC cooled room with the thermostat down. In my experience I’m much stronger under these conditions as opposed to my hot gym

  4. Great post scooby. I tried fitting in a cold shower pre-workout, i am always well hydrated throughout the day, but having this cold shower, drinking ice water during and keeping the room at a low temp did seem to help me out. However this was the initial experiment, so ill try it before my workouts and see if there is a noticeable difference in the long-term. Thanks for bringing this to our attention :).

  5. I’m not yet too convinced, as you mentioned, that this should be considered the vanguard of improving muscular strength and conditioning, for runners have long known the relationships between environmental conditions and their performance.

    It is, for example, almost axiomatic that the heat and humidity can raise heart rates by as many as 20 beats per minute, thereby decreasing athletic performance and increasing the perceived difficultly of a workout.

    It would be nice, though, to be able to lift weights in an open-air environment, especially when it’s 65F out!

  6. Scooby. I know you are an engineer. I was reading more into the Avacore glove. They want $3000 for the glove. Is there a poor man’s alternative for this? Apparently the vacuum suction is really key to stop the vessels from constricting because of the cold water. Just wondering if a cheap/weak vacuum pump can be bought then with tubing and rubber I could make a seal around my hand and then just hold a frozen water bottle in my hand. Please get back to me.

  7. The Welsh Rugby team use a Kryogenic gym in Poland during their pre tournament training camps. It seemed to have a good effect and they won the 6 Nations Championship last season

  8. I’ve heard about this, too, they have done this with athletes, putting them into a chamber with extremely cold air (thus, not as bad as water, which would probably do more damage as you mentioned) for about 5min or so before their workout, which apparently worked very well. but without similar conditions probably impossible for the average person to copy, not everyone has a cold storage house nearby, eh?

  9. Tim Feris in the 4-Hour Body advocaes ice baths for fat loss because of simple thermodynamics. People think all the time of expending energy to burn calories using enough physical work, not with temperature. Ice baths can increase the thermodynamic demand on the body to keep the body temperatue stable at 98.6, which effectively burns more calories. Of course you won’t do this right before a workout, but say in the morning and night.

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