We investigated the effect of hydrotherapy on time-trial performance and cardiac parasympathetic reactivation during recovery from intense training. On three occasions, 18 well-trained cyclists completed 60 min high-intensity cycling, followed 20 min later by one of three 10-min recovery interventions: passive rest (PAS), cold water immersion (CWI), or contrast water immersion (CWT). The cyclists then rested quietly for 160 min with R-R intervals and perceptions of recovery recorded every 30 min. Cardiac parasympathetic activity was evaluated using the natural logarithm of the square root of mean squared differences of successive R-R intervals (ln rMSSD). Finally, the cyclists completed a work-based cycling time trial. Effects were examined using magnitude-based inferences. Differences in time-trial performance between the three trials were trivial. Compared with PAS, general fatigue was very likely lower for CWI (difference [90% confidence limits; -12% (-18; -5)]) and CWT [-11% (-19; -2)]. Leg soreness was almost certainly lower following CWI [-22% (-30; -14)] and CWT [-27% (-37; -15)]. The change in mean ln rMSSD following the recovery interventions (ln rMSSD(Post-interv)) was almost certainly higher following CWI [16.0% (10.4; 23.2)] and very likely higher following CWT [12.5% (5.5; 20.0)] compared with PAS, and possibly higher following CWI [3.7% (-0.9; 8.4)] compared with CWT. The correlations between performance, ln rMSSD(Post-interv) and perceptions of recovery were unclear. A moderate correlation was observed between ln rMSSD(Post-interv) and leg soreness [r = -0.50 (-0.66; -0.29)]. Although the effects of CWI and CWT on performance were trivial, the beneficial effects on perceptions of recovery support the use of these recovery strategies.
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