The benefits of rapid recovery after intense exercise are widely recognised, and lactate elimination is one indicator of recovery rate. This study examined the effect of contrast (alternating hot and cold) water immersion (CWI) on the rate of plasma lactate decrease during recovery after intense anaerobic exercise. Eleven subjects on each of two occasions undertook four successive 30-s Wingate tests separated by 30-s rest periods. On each occasion, plasma lactate concentration during recovery was measured 5 min post-exercise and thereafter at 5 min intervals for 30 min. On one occasion (determined randomly), the subjects recovered passively (PR) on a recovery bed and, on the other, they alternated partial body immersion in hot (36 degrees C) and cold (12 degrees C) water baths. Plasma lactate concentrations were analysed by repeated measures analysis of variance and by fitting a linear regression model, allowing for both gender and recovery mode differences. The rate of decrease in plasma lactate concentration over the 30-min recovery period was significantly higher (p<0.001) in CWI; 0.28(+/-0.02) mmol L(-1) min(-1) (CWI) compared to 0.22(+/-0.02) mmol L(-1) min(-1) (PR). These values do not differ significantly between males and females. Contrast water immersion is a valid method of hastening plasma lactate decrease during recovery after intense anaerobic exercise for both males and females. An approximately 1.8 mmol L(-1) difference between the two conditions may be expected after 30 min. With differences among elite competitors as little as 1-2%, this reduction may be of practical significance.