Cold water immersion and intermittent living are both rapidly gaining in popularity in their own rights. However, whilst many people practice one or the other, there is a good case for combining them (intermittent living already includes some elements of cold therapy, but today’s argument runs that full cold water immersion should be a given with it).
This is especially the case in those either recovering from injury or surgery, and in those looking to improve post-workout recovery and training adaptation.
The reason both should work so well together is that cold immersion therapy and intermittent living both essentially share the same goals- or, at least, many of the same goals- and the benefits elicited by one method will pretty much always complement the benefits elicited by the other.
The full effects of both intermittent living and cold water immersion therapy are still being explored, debated, touted and contested; though the anecdotal evidence is often conclusive, much more scientific data is needed before definitive answers can be given.
However, the data we do have, the theory that underpins both practices, and ever-useful user testimony can all be brought together to point us in the right direction and give us some clues as to the efficacy of each method and the reasons behind it all.
Cold water immersion, intermittent living, and physical recovery
The diminution of inflammatory pathways and the hydrostatic effects of water immersion both represent avenues of interest when looking at the positive effects of cold water therapy for physical recovery. The diminution of inflammatory pathways and the hormonal responses of intermittent living are what will interest us when looking at the same.
This could be recovery from injury or from the trauma of hard exercise. The benefits will work as well for one as for the other.
Intermittent living relies on the intermittent use of a series of hormetic triggers employed daily for one week out of four. These triggers consist of the following protocols and methods used to elicit the required physical responses:
- Intermittent fasting
- Intermittent heat
- Intermittent cold (paralleling cold immersion therapy)
- Intermittent hypoxia
- Intermittent drinking
- The inclusion of large quantities of nutrients with hormetic effects
- Relaxation and mindfulness protocols
Spending one week per month employing the above intermittent living practices, every month, can lead to improved longer-term ability to recover and heal.
A couple of the above methods stand out as being particularly useful in the context of recovery. Altogether, they add up to a diminishment in stress and inflammation. This will result in speedier repair to muscle tissue, decreased cortisol production and increased human growth hormone (HGH) production. This increase to HGH production will mean more efficient muscular repair- it is a vital hormone for growth, unsurprisingly. Specifically, these results will be brought about by the mixture of:
intermittent fasting, which is used by many athletes to naturally raise HGH and testosterone production and decrease inflammation and insulin resistance,
relaxation mindfulness protocols, known to lower stress levels and thus cortisol production and inflammation,
and movement in the form of active recovery, meaning more oxygenated, nutrient rich blood to the muscles and synovial fluid to the joints, thus greater resources for repair and a loosening of stiff joints.
Thus, adopting an intermittent living regimen could well lead to improved recovery, whether this is in an athletic or medical context.
Likewise, cold water immersion therapy has become a popular recovery method amongst trainers, athletes and physiotherapists for its ability to improve recovery time after and reduce the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) after hard exercise, and for occupational therapists for its ability to improve recovery from medical intervention.
Let’s stick with athleticism and look at DOMS (these benefits will all carry over to recovery from training and/or medical intervention). Hard exercise will cause various degrees of fatigue to the musculoskeletal, nervous, and metabolic systems. Trauma to the muscles is often paired with exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD- necessary microscopic tears in the muscle tissue). This is believed to be one of the leading causes of DOMS, whilst trauma to the rest of the body leaves a sense of fatigue and lethargy with which most athletes will be all-too familiar.
- As a recovery method for muscular and soft tissue trauma, such as incidents of DOMS, sprains, strains and inflamed tissue, cold water immersion is notable for its ability to:
- Reduce oedemas
- Decrease the perception of pain associated with muscular soreness
- Decrease the perception of fatigue
- Alter localised blood flow
- Alter localised tissue and core temperature
- Alter heart rate
- Reduce muscle spasms
- Reduce tissue inflammation
- Reduce cortisol production
- Reduce muscle damage
- Improve range of motion
Putting the two together
Intermittent living already includes an element of cold therapy, so putting it together with cold water immersion is a logical, useful step, especially in the context of recovery.
Both will help to reduce inflammation through damaged tissue and improve mobility, whilst reducing damaging cortisol production. Put together, they will do this to a greater degree, alongside eliciting a beneficial hormonal response in the form of increased testosterone and HGH, decreasing perceptions of fatigue, decreasing overall stress levels and promoting greater access to active recovery.
In their own ways, each seeks the same end: to improve your physicality by manipulating your own natural bodily mechanisms. They are complementary in many ways: they will bring about the same or complimentary results as one another.
Taking part in either cold water immersion or an intermittent living protocol will allow you to heal more quickly, whether it be regularly from exercise or from specific trauma like injury or surgery. In concert, they can do this far more efficiently.