2023 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) Mitchell Hooper holds a human kinetics degree from the University of Guelph and a master’s degree in clinical exercise physiology from the University of Sydney. He knows not only how to lift heavy weights quickly under time pressure but also the requirements of the body and nervous system to pull that off.
“I’m here to go against the grain,” said the strongman from Ontario, Canada, in the caption of a YouTube video he published to his channel on Sept. 19, 2023. Hooper remarks that “Ice baths are all the rage, but mostly for no reason.” Hooper makes a distinction between cold water therapy for physical recovery versus the mental benefits it might offer.
Check out what Hooper had to say about how icing should be dropped from one’s recovery in the video below:
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Cold-Water Therapy’s Origin
As Hooper explained, the initial idea of icing was first popularized by the sports medic and author Dr. Gabe Mirkin in 1978. Mirkin coined the acronym “R.I.C.E.,” which stands for “Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation” — a technique aimed at combatting inflammation.
At the time of Mirkin’s declaration, eliminating inflammation was seen as critical for expediting the healing process. It’s a principle many sports and medical professionals adhere to to this day. However, Hooper asserts that Mirkin’s theory is outdated — as does Mirkin.
“…in 2015, Dr. Merkin said [he] was wrong because icing takes a helpful degree of inflammation and it knocks it down to zero,’” said Hooper. Dr. Mirkin recanted his words after further research and now asserts that healing requires the existence of inflammation in the injured area. (1)
These days, Dr. Mirkin advocates for rest, compression, and elevation but not for the ice. While the former three methods remain fodder for future debate, there are numerous studies that agree with the important role that inflammation plays in recovery.
Hooper referenced a 2020 systemic review of R.I.C.E in The Sport Journal that explained that the body should go through three phases for sufficient recovery from physical stress and that each phase must be completed before the next phase can begin: (2)
3 Phases of Recovery
The review suggested that without inflammation, the healing process is compromised. “…Inflammation comes in, and its job is to reduce damage,” said Hooper, clarifying the difference between acute inflammation versus chronic inflammation. The former involves macrophages, which clear out damaged tissue, depositing the hormone IGF1.
“For those who don’t know IGF1, it is massively useful in cellular recovery at any level,” Hooper stated, adding that IGF1 is the “king” of recovery. “We need to go through this method, and icing is not useful.”
Ice baths and cold-water therapy can slow recovery, as they can stunt inflammation. Hooper highlights the common conflation of inflammation and swelling, which are, more often than not, different things.
Swelling Vs. Inflammation
Swelling is the result of the body sending fluids to the injured area to remove damaged tissue. However, since the dead cells aren’t being cleared as quickly as the fluids are coming in, the bloated look of swelling takes effect.
The first phase of recovery is inflammation. That is when the body sends the necessary nutrients to the damaged area to begin phase two. Note that swelling is the appearance of bloatedness in the area, not a phase of recovery. Without the requisite building blocks provided during inflammation, the second phase of recovery will not sufficiently occur to trigger phase three.
The third phase, remodeling, is when the body adapts, both physically and neurologically, to adjust to the stimulus that has been placed on the affected area. This phase is what might be most resonant for athletes since it is the physiology by which one gets stronger — the breaking down and rebuilding of muscle fibers.
Embrace Inflammation During Recovery
To summarize, inflammation is when macrophages enter the damaged area and trigger the body to go into the repair phase, which then leads the body to the remodeling phase. Ice inhibits inflammation, which derails the recovery process from the start. So embrace acute inflammation during recovery, as it is the body entering the first phase of recovery.
- Dr. Gabe Mirkin, et al. “Dr. Gabe Mirkin.” Dr Gabe Mirkin on Health, 9 May 2021, www.drmirkin.com/fitness/why-ice-delays-recovery.html. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.
- Domenic Scialoia & Adam J. Swartzendruber. The R.I.C.E Protocol is a MYTH: A Review and Recommendations. https://thesportjournal.org/article/the-r-i-c-e-protocol-is-a-myth-a-review-and-recommendations/
Featured image: @mitchellhooper on Instagram