The Importance of Hot and Cold Showers When Recovering from a Workout

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 8 seconds.


JULY, 2018

So, you’ve just finished your workout, and if you are trying to get in the best shape possible for the summer you might have tried out HIIT, which we featured here in April. If you did things right, your body, naturally, would have taken a beating, and is in need of proper recovery. Much attention (rightfully) is put on a protein-rich post-workout meal and a good night’s sleep when it comes to recuperation after a workout. Yet, you can kick-start the recovery process immediately in the shower at the gym. By taking a cold shower followed by a hot one you can help your muscles and body recovery much more effectively, and in time for the next workout.

The Science Behind a Cold Shower

In an interview with Business Insider, former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson stressed that cold water has a lot of benefits. One such benefit, according to Emerson, is that cold water “vasoconstricts the entire body, squeezing out all of that lactic acid so that you can feel good to go the next day and be ready for the next day training.” In layman’s terms, cold water narrows the blood vessels by causing their muscular wall to contract. This process, in turn, flushes out lactic acid, which releases hydrogen ions that increase tissue acidity and cause you to feel fatigued.

Dr. Kristin Maynes also gives a thumbs up to after-workout cold showers, noting that cold water helps alleviate pain by decreasing blood flow to stiffen your muscles and joints. Dr. Maynes compares this reduction in pain to “icing an injury”. Simply, healing won’t start unless the swelling subsides. The same principle applies to post-workout cold showers, only this time the entire body is given the cold treatment.

The Science Behind the Hot Shower

Dr. Maynes is quick to point out, though, that a cold shower should always be followed by a hot shower. The latter wash, she says, finishes off what the cold shower started by fully flushing out the lactic acid that has built up in your body. The hot shower also hastens muscle and joint recovery by clearing out inflammatory cells, dead cells, and scar tissue. It also ensures that your muscles and joints don’t stiffen up, which can make it hard to move about after a tough gym session. Lastly, the heat will slow your heart rate down and stimulate the production of feel-good hormones like dopamine and norepinephrine, thus improving your mood and making you feel good overall.

Targeting Problem Areas

If you have only exercised one body area, say for example your legs, you may not want to give your entire body the cold/hot treatment. By using a showerhead you can target various parts of the body to encourage maximum recovery in that area. Screwfix list a variety of power showers that come with features, such as temperature gauges and pressure control, that are beneficial to muscle recovery. Power showers that are capable of releasing water with a great amount of force have the added bonus of massaging the sore areas during the cold/hot treatment. As a result, you can alleviate pain and inflammation, which means recovery time can be improved even more.

According to the article ‘6 Ways to Speed Up Muscle Recovery’ by Men’s Health, the best thing you can do is to go from cold to hot four times. So, you take a cold shower (12 degrees Celsius would be ideal) for 1 minute and then crank up the temperature to about 40 degrees Celsius for a 3-minute hot shower. Then repeat the cycle again from cold to hot four times more. Do this and you will be well on your way to a fast recovery!


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