The edge in recovery: CrossFit athletes and cold tubs

The edge in recovery: CrossFit athletes and cold tubs

Mat Fraser, Rich Froning, Tia-Clair Toomey, and Brooke Wells are ranked among the greatest CrossFit athletes ever. Now retired, Fraser earned the title of Fittest Man on Earth five times. Froning became the first athlete to win four CrossFit Games before stepping back from individual competition. Toomey, who recently gave birth to daughter Willow, won six consecutive titles. And Wells has been to the games eight times. 

As professional CrossFit athletes, they spent two to four hours a day putting in the work — lifting, running, swimming, walking on their hands, climbing ropes. It can be brutal, Wells told Fitness Volt.

But whether it’s at your local CrossFit box or a well-known gym where the pros train, everyone is putting in the work. The process of becoming the fittest in the world — or just the fittest version of yourself — comes down to the little things that give you an edge.

Fraser told GQ that, “If everyone’s doing the hard rowing intervals, what’s the tiny thing you’re doing on top of it to get better?’ … Take my recovery… I have a sauna and an ice bath in the backyard so I don’t need to go to another facility and it is always there.”  

Ice baths and cold tubs have gained popularity among various professional athletes, including CrossFit athletes, as an effective recovery tool. And Fraser, Froning, Toomey, and Wells are among the pros who have made cold water immersion a part of their recovery process.

But after a grueling WOD, you don’t want to have to add a farmer’s carry to your cool down. And by farmer’s carry, we mean hauling 25-pound bags of ice from your car to your bathtub. 

A cold tub, like the Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub by Master Spas, can be a powerful tool for promoting recovery without the inconvenience of traditional ice baths.

cold water CrossFit

Cold water benefits for athletes

Whether you are streaming the games online or watching CrossFit videos on YouTube, you’ve seen them. Rubber stock tanks, galvanized troughs, even small above-ground pools — all filled with cold water and bag after bag of ice.

Athletes hop into these DIY ice baths and just chill. Sometimes, you might even catch them dunking their heads or eating lunch.  But why do CrossFitters use ice baths? 

It’s all about the recovery.

“Recovery from exercise can be an important factor in performance during repeated bouts of exercise,” researchers write in an article published in Sports Medicine. “In a tournament situation, where athletes may compete numerous times over a few days, enhancing recovery may provide a competitive advantage.”

Ice baths are a form of cold water immersion, which can help athletes recover after an intense workout. Cold water immersion can aid in reducing inflammation, decreasing muscle soreness, and enhancing circulation. In addition, it activates the nervous system and can help you develop the grit to make it through life’s challenges — whether it’s on the competition floor, at work, or at home.

Reduces inflammation 

Inflammation is a natural response to exercise. And you actually want that inflammatory response when you are training. It helps promote tissue repair, adaptation, and build muscular strength. Your body will adapt to this inflammation, leading to improved fitness and performance.

But without proper recovery, inflammation can make it harder to train to be your greatest. It’s hard to do box jumps when you are feeling sore, stiff, and tired.

Cold water immersion can reduce inflammation in several ways. According to research published in the journal PLoS ONE, cold water triggers a change in the cellular proteins released. There are fewer pro-inflammatory cytokines released, while the number of anti-inflammatory cytokines are released.

And because cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict, fewer of the inflammatory proteins are able to get into the tissue [source].

cold water athletes

Enhanced circulation 

Jumping into a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub by Master Spas, with a water temperature set to give you chills, might not feel particularly therapeutic. You are breathing faster and, sometimes, your heart can feel like it’s beating out of your chest.

In reality, the cold water reduces the blood flow to the muscles. If you want to get scientific about it, cold water immersion causes vasoconstriction. And why is this good? It improves the rate at which your muscles are reoxygenated [source], helping you to feel less tired during your next workout.

Bonus: Once you get out of the cold tub, blood flow returns to your extremities. This boost in blood flow helps repair any muscle damage, supporting the repair and recovery process.

Decreased muscle soreness

After a hard workout, nothing feels better than a hot shower. However, it might be a cold tub that can provide the most benefit.

Cold water therapy has been shown to reduce muscle soreness. Not only does the water temperature deliver a numbing effect, the effect on blood flow can help flush out metabolic waste products and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. This enables athletes to recover more quickly and perform at their best in subsequent workouts.

cold water CrossFit

Psychological benefits

Hopping into cold water can be a shock. But that might not be a bad thing. Cold water immersion can stimulate the body’s fight or flight response. You might find that your breathing and heart range change as a flood of endorphins are released. As you submerge yourself in the tub, you have to focus on being calm and cool.

And that mental focus can be beneficial, whether you are at the gym, work, or elsewhere. Many athletes who practice cold tub therapy find that they are more resilient and can better manage stress.

In addition, the endorphins that are released provide a natural mood boost and support mental relaxation and rejuvenation. 

cold water therapy basics

Cold water basics

Any type of strenuous exercise can leave you sore and stiff. But for many, CrossFit can deliver a whole new level of soreness. 

CrossFit is constantly varied movements performed at a high intensity, and workouts incorporate elements of weightlifting, cardio, and gymnastics. The high-intensity nature of the workouts results in micro-tears in the muscle fibers and depletes energy stores. 

Without proper recovery, the risk of overtraining, injuries, and burnout increases. Incorporating a Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tub by Master Spas, along with other recovery strategies, can help with soreness and improve performance.

But there is a strategy to incorporating cold water therapy for recovery.


There are two schools of thought when it comes to timing a cold plunge. You can hop in almost immediately after completing intense workout or competition. The cold water immersion helps reduce inflammation, minimize muscle soreness, and promote faster recovery. 

However, according to an article in the Journal of Physiology, cold water can reduce long-term muscle mass and strength. Participants in the study trained for 12 weeks and did either 10 minutes of active recovery or 10 minutes of cold therapy after the workout. Those who followed up with cold water immersion saw less growth.

If your goal is to promote muscle growth while prioritizing recovery, consider taking a cold plunge 24 hours after a hard training session [source]. Because some inflammation is good, you’ll be able to see the necessary response and adaptation.

How often to do a cold plunge

Every athlete is different, and it's important to listen to your body when incorporating cold water into your recovery routine. As a general guideline, incorporating one to three plunges per week can yield significant benefits. 

However, it's essential to balance cold water immersion with other recovery methods, such as rest, proper nutrition, and mobility work. Additionally, some athletes may benefit from a more individualized approach, depending on their training volume, recovery capacity, and overall goals.

Michael Phelps cold plunge

About Chilly GOAT Cold Tubs

For CrossFit athletes seeking the greatest in recovery, Michael Phelps Chilly GOAT Cold Tubs by Master Spas offer a host of benefits. Enjoy the physical and mental benefits of cold water immersion with 24/7 access to clean, allowing for efficient muscle recovery and reduced inflammation. 

Say goodbye to the hassle of adding ice or spending time cleaning out your bathtub before taking the plunge. Chilly GOAT cold tubs feature a superior water care system, including filter and UV, so  that the water is always clean and ready for use. 

The modern design of these cold tubs not only provides a functional recovery tool but also complements the aesthetics of your home gym or backyard. Available in two colors, Chilly GOAT Cold Tubs have a durable, weather-resistant cabinet and easy-to-clean acrylic surface.

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