Ep. #1052: Research Review: Ice Baths and Massages, Training Intensity Matters, & Lifting Improves Mental Skills


Hello, hello, and welcome to Muscle for Life. My name is Mike Matthews. I am your host. Thank you for joining me today for a research review episode. I’ve done a few of these in the past. I believe they were called Research Roundup. I like research review more. And I want to bring them back and maybe do one a month because I am regularly reading and reviewing research for my work for the next book that I’m working on for the various content marketing things that I’m doing, and I figured why not share some of the more interesting and practical and topical research with you, my dear podcast.

Listen. And some people in the evidence-based fitness space charge for this type of thing. There are quite a few research reviews that you can subscribe to, and a number of them are very good and I subscribe to them myself, and I learned from them. But I would rather just share my research review for free and tell people to check out my books and check out my supplements and my other.

And so in this episode, I’m going to be talking about ice baths and massages and recovery. Do those things speed up your post-workout recovery? The answer appears to be yes and no. And of course, I shall explain what I mean by that. In this episode, I’m also gonna be talking about training intensity and how it relates to answering the question of whether you need a new or better or modified strength training program.

Or whether you just need to work harder with the one that you have. And lastly, I’m gonna be sharing some cool research, looking into how weightlifting can improve your mental health, and specifically how it can improve what is called executive function. And I’ll explain what that is and how weightlifting improves it in this.

Okay, so let’s start with ice baths and massages. Can they speed up your post-workout recovery? Yes and no. Appears to be the answer according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Patris. And what does that mean? Well, in this study, the researchers split 60 amateur athletes into four different groups, and they first tested their quadriceps strength with a knee extension exercise, and.

The participants performed five sets of 20 drop jumps from a two foot box. So you get up on a two foot box, you jump down, and then you jump as high as you can on the rebound. So you land from the two foot box and immediately go into maximum vertical jump. And then finally, the participants did one of the following act.

Activities. They either did cold water immersion, which required them to sit in about 50 degrees Fahrenheit water for 10 minutes. So that’s a ice bath, basically. Lower body ice bath. The second intervention, which again, so you had four groups and they were split into these different interventions. The second one was a massage, so that was a 20 minute massage, 10 minutes per leg or quadriceps massage in.

And the third group did massage and cold water, which is what you would assume. And number two followed by number one, and then you had the fourth group. They did nothing after the box jumps. That’s the control group. And what the results showed is that the recovery techniques, so groups one through three, all improved muscle soreness faster than doing nothing.

So group four, but. The recovery techniques did not restore strength any faster, so all groups took about four days on average to return to their pre-exercise strength levels. Now, that is an important finding because performance, so in this case, strength is a stronger index of recovery than muscle soreness.

That is if a muscle group has regained its normal performance capacity, but is still sore. In reality, it’s usually slightly sore. If a muscle group is extremely sore, it is almost certainly not going to be able to perform at its normal level. But if it is slightly sore and it can perform normally, that muscle group is likely ready for another training bout.

You can train productively, profitably with sore muscles just because muscles are sore, and again, it’s usually slight soreness. That does not mean that they are. Yet recovered and ready to be trained again. And similarly, if performance in a muscle group is still impaired and it is not sore, then that muscle group is likely still recovering from the last training session and is not ready for more training.

And so then as for cold water immersion and massage, they appear to have limited utility as recovery interventions according to the results of this study. The effects in this study were more cosmetic than complete. I guess you could. However many people, athletes, and otherwise prefer to minimize muscle soreness in general because it can make training and playing feel more painful and difficult.

Even if they are able to complete their workouts and their games and matches and so forth as desired and for that purpose, then regular ice baths and massages do appear to help. Now, one final note is I’m saying, Baths and not cold showers intentionally because research shows that cold showers do not provide the benefits that ice baths provide.

To get significant benefits from cold water immersion, you need to do something very similar to what the participants in this study did. You need to fully immerse the target muscle groups in very cold water. About 50 degrees for at least five minutes and up to 10 minutes appears to be the sweet spot.

And so when you compare that to the average cold shower protocol, you get my point. Many people take a hot shower. And then they finish with maybe 15 to 30 seconds of cold water and that can feel good. And maybe there’s a slight psychological benefit to forcing yourself to do a little something that you don’t want to do.

But physiologically speaking, that is not going to accomplish anything. And even people who are more committed to their cold showers. I took cold showers every day when I was living in Virginia for up to, I think it was about a year and a. Pretty consistently, and I would do three to five minutes of cold water.

And in the winter, in particular in Virginia, that is cold water. I actually never measured the temperature, but it has to be fifties or sixties. If you let it run on your forehead, for example, you get brain freeze. It was cold. And so even something like that, which many people who say they take cold showers don’t do is not compar.

To the ice bath method that has been shown to produce different physiological benefits in various scientific studies. Okay, let’s move on to the next study I want to discuss, which is going to help us answer the question of whether we need to change our strength training program. Do we need a new one?

Do we need to make the current one more difficult? Or do we just need to work harder with what we’ve got? So to help us find an answer, let’s look to a study that was conducted by scientists at Soland University. And what the researchers did here is they parsed through 18 different studies that looked at how hard people habitually train.

And what the researchers found is that when people were told to perform several, usually three challenging sets, so hard sets, difficult sets, working sets of a certain number of reps, usually 10. Just in the studies that the researchers were looking at, the people consistently selected training weights that were too light for optimal results.

So for example, in one of these studies, By these scientists, the researchers asked the participants to do three sets of 10 reps on the bench, press, leg press and biceps curl with enough weight to make these sets difficult Again, working sets, muscle building sets like you are working out and trying to get bigger and stronger on average.

The participants selected weights that were about 53% of their one rep max on those exercises, and that is significantly lighter than the 10 rep max. That applies to most people. If you think of a bell curve, a normal distribution, most people can do about 10 reps with about 75% of their one rep max, and most people can do 20 to maybe even 25 reps with.

50% of one rep max. And so the problem here is in the case of this study, those people may have described those sets of 10 reps with 50 to 55% of one rep max as difficult. But research shows those sets are not difficult enough to maximize muscle and strength gain, and especially in experie. Trainees specifically, what studies show is that working sets, these are your hard muscle building sets, must come to within one to four reps of muscular failure to produce a powerful training stimulus that in turn can produce a powerful anabolic.

Response, and just in case you are wondering how I define muscular failure or what I mean here by muscular failure, I mean the point where you cannot do another rep with good form. If you maintain form, you are going to fail At that rep, the barbell is going to stop. The dumbbells are going to stop, the machine is going to stop, and the only way to finish the rep is to cheat on your form, maybe reduce range of motion or do something with your body that you shouldn’t be doing in that exercise to.

The rep, and so anyway, again, one to four reps shy of muscular failure is the golden mean for gaining muscle and gaining strength, and we can put that differently. This is maybe a little bit more practical for training if you end a set of any number of reps with more than three to four good reps left in the tank or in reserve as it’s referred to in the literature.

Reps in reserve, meaning you could do at least three to four more good reps. Those sets will not cause nearly as much muscle growth as sets that end with just 1, 2, 3 good reps left, and consequently then it takes several far from failure sets to achieve the same. Facts as one close to failure set, and that’s one of the primary reasons that many people spend many hours in the gym every week for many months or even many years on end with very little change in their performance and their physique, their strength or muscularity.

Often these people, they don’t come close enough to muscular failure. In most or really any of their sets, and they don’t do enough total sets to compensate for that lack of intensity, which could require doubling or even tripling the duration of their workouts. So, To ensure that you are not leaving too many reps and thus too much gains in the tank, in your workouts, get in the habit of asking yourself the following question when a working set is starting to get hard.

If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good form? Then trust your intuition, trust your intuitive answer. And research actually shows that it will be fairly accurate, especially if you are a seasoned weightlifter and if you go to muscular failure on certain exercises where it is safe and appropriate, uh, fairly regularly.

So you remember what it feels like to get to or close to mu. Failure. And so ask yourself that question when sets are getting hard and then keep going in the set until the answer is between one and three, and I just mentioned regularly or semi-regularly going to failure on certain exercises. And just to expound on that a little bit, the reason why you want to do that is it helps calibrate your perception of difficulty.

Reality. If you never go to failure, or at least two within, let’s say, one rep of failure, like zero good reps left, what can happen is your perception of how many reps you have left can become divorced from reality. It can become tied more to just your perception of sometimes it’s pain because you are doing a higher rep set and your muscles are burning.

And you are conflating the discomfort or simply the desire to end the set because it sucks with your ability to keep going. And sometimes with lower rep sets that aren’t as systemically grueling, systemically fatiguing as higher rep sets, especially on difficult exercises, you simply underestimate your performance, your ability to perform, your ability to get another rep or two, or.

And so then it’s helpful to occasionally go to failure or go to zero. Good reps left, so one rep shy of failure on certain exercises, not the barbell squad of any kind, not the barbell deadlift of any kind. I don’t really like doing it on the barbell overhead press or any kind of overhead press because with those exercises, the risks of injury outweigh the benefits, but you can safely go to failure or.

Up to the brink of failure on many other exercises that allow you to use proper form right up to the end of the set and to safely end the set to safely bail on the set. If you do go right up to failure and you actually can’t complete the wrap, you can probably think of many exercises where this is obvious.

If you are training smaller muscle groups, that is very easy, but you can also do that with your larger muscle groups, like your lower body, for example. Will do this on the leg press. I actually don’t like to do it on the leg press because I don’t like the position that it puts my lower back in, lower back starts to curl it.

It’s hard at least for me to keep my lower back in the proper position. If I am trying to push right up to the brink of failure, however, I can very safely do that on a hack squat machine or a pendulum squat machine, or on a Bulgarian split squat or a lunge, not a barbell lunge, but a dumbbell or kettlebell lunge.

And for my upper body, I can do the same thing on a barbell bench press or a dumbbell bench press if I have a spotter. You don’t technically need a spotter on the dumbbell press, but I do think it helps at least a little bit, and research actually shows it can improve your performance. You can get an extra rep or two on average if you have a spotter, but if you are not comfortable pushing two failure or close to failure on either of those exercises, doing it on a machine, on a machine press can be helpful specifically.

Remembering what it feels like to push your PEX primarily to failure. How would you like a free meal planning tool that figures out your calories, your macros, even your micros, and then allows you to create 100% custom meal plans for cutting, lean, gaining, or maintaining? In under five minutes. Well, all you gotta do is go to buy legion.com/meal plan b u y legion.com/meal plan and download the tool.

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Enter your email address and you will get instant access. Okay. The next study I wanna talk about here is related to the mental health benefits of weightlifting because the most obvious benefits of weightlifting are strength, body composition, physical health. But more and more research is showing that it is pre.

Particularly good for mental health as well. So for example, there is a growing body of evidence that weightlifting improves executive function, which is a group of mental skills that relate to controlling our thoughts, our attention, our emotions and behaviors. Executive function is very important if we want to succeed in life.

And by that I don’t just mean make money if we want to do whatever it is that we want to. In our life, we want to have strong executive function skills. So in a study that was conducted by scientists at National Taiwan, normal university researchers examined the literature on executive function in a review of 19 studies investigating 42 separate outcomes related to the three core domains of executive function, which are inhibitory.

Which is your ability to control automatic urges, to think, feel, or act a certain way by pausing and then using your attention and using your reasoning to respond appropriately. And then we have working memory, which is your ability to hold small amounts of information in your mind during the execution of cognitive tasks.

And finally, we have cognitive flexibility, which is your ability to adjust your thinking to match various environments and situations. And overall, what the researchers found is that weightlifting positively affected 57% of the outcomes that were measured in these studies that they reviewed. And the results showed that weightlifting appears to benefit inhibitory control the most, followed by cognitive flexibility.

And then finally, Working memory, and that is pretty cool. But there is more because you may assume that the mental benefits of weightlifting depend on the intensity of your training, that it requires high intensity training to really make a difference, or that high intensity training is preferred, but the data show.

Otherwise, while it’s unclear whether low, moderate, or high intensity training is absolutely best for enhancing executive function, partly because of how the improvements were measured in the different studies that were reviewed, it is clear that weightlifting of any kind, ranging from mildly difficult to extremely difficult appears to produce similar and significant cognitive benefit.

So that’s just another reason to pat yourself on the back when you do a strength workout of any kind of any duration, even when it’s not the one that you wanted to do or that you had planned to do. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show because.

It makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes, and it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you. And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have, uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I.

Better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.


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