After an intense workout, there’s nothing better than a hot shower – or is there? In truth, more than one kind of shower can be beneficial for your workout recovery, especially if you want to hit the gym tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of a cold shower for workout recovery.
1. Helps Soothe Inflammation
When you take a cold shower, you can calm down any irritated or inflamed skin, such as the skin on your hands, your legs, your arms, or your chest. Cold showers can even minimize the urge to itch your skin again and again after sweating and working out.
Why? Cold showers close your pores and help to numb your skin to some extent, meaning that there’s less surface area to be irritated and that your skin loses sensitivity. Therefore, if you experience high sensitivity after exercising, particularly after an intense cardio workout, a cold shower could be just the ticket.
2. Increases Oxygen Intake
When you take a cold shower, you experience a little physiological shock (if the water is cold enough, that is). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that physiological shock accelerates your heart rate, increases your alertness, and even increases your oxygen intake.
That can be beneficial in the aftermath of a workout when your body needs as much oxygen as possible to recover and promote muscle growth. This won’t have a major impact on your muscle growth rate, of course. But breathing more deeply could help you come down from the cardiovascular stress that’s common after a long run or intense exercise routine.
3. Supports Circulation
Cold showers can further boost circulation throughout your body. This is one of the main reasons why physical therapists recommend cold showers after a workout.
When cold water touches your skin, it constricts blood circulation around the surface of your body. As a result, the blood in your deeper tissues circulates much faster in order to maintain the ideal body temperature. That’s a good thing for your organ health and for muscle regeneration. The deeper blood vessels in your body will respond positively to the cold temperatures near the surface.
As nutrient-rich blood circulates throughout your body, more of that blood reaches your muscles, providing them with the building blocks they need to repair muscle tears. In this way, a cold shower has something of the opposite effect compared to a hot shower, which expands your pores and increases blood circulation to the surface of your body.
4. Reduces Muscle Soreness
One of the most important benefits of cold showers after a workout is reduced muscle soreness. When you take a cold shower, the numbing effect of the cool water will help to minimize the pain and discomfort you feel in your muscles and joints, especially after a long run or a heavy lifting session.
That’s one big reason why many professional athletes take ice baths after a game or a training session. Icy patches work for the same underlying principles. If you experience a lot of muscle soreness after working out, a cold shower could be the perfect solution without having to resort to pain medication.
Then, you can use a massage roller or even take a warm shower after your cold shower to maximize muscle soothing and relief. It all depends on your personal temperature tolerance and preferences.
5. Releases Endorphins
Cold temperatures help to release endorphins, which are special hormones produced by your brain. Endorphins help you feel good and relaxed, plus numb a certain amount of pain and discomfort by affecting the sympathetic nervous system.
When your body produces extra endorphins, you are more likely to feel good after an intense workout or physical discomfort, helping you recover more quickly and acquire the motivation to keep working out This may result in an anti-depressive effect or a reduction in the symptoms of depression.
Note that there are even more potential benefits to cold water immersion or cold showers, such as weight loss improvements, mental health support, and a reduction in heart disease risks. Water temperature can even impact the white blood cell count in the body.
Bottom line: cold exposure can positively impact your energy levels and well-being.
Are There Risks to Cold Showers After Working Out?
There may be, and it depends on whether how you take a cold shower.
A cold shower can be a great idea in the summer or warmer weather, but it likely isn’t as much of a good idea in the winter when it tends to be chilly. If you are already cold, taking a cold shower may be nothing more than just unpleasant.
Furthermore, taking a cold shower generally isn’t a good idea if you’re sick (though neither is working out). If you engage in a light exercise routine while recovering from the flu or a cold, it may be best to stay away from cold showers and instead opt for warm (not hot) water.
Is a Cold Shower or Hot Shower Better for Workout Recovery?
That depends, but many surveys and studies indicate that cold showers or cold baths might be a little better for workout recovery overall compared to hot showers.
For example, a 2013 survey of existing medical literature indicated that hot water immersion had unclear benefits for athletes. However, the same survey showed that soaking in cold water after an intense training session provided clear and demonstrable recovery benefits for athletes.
Furthermore, cold water showers and baths provide additional health benefits, and not just for athletes. If you want to recover rapidly after a workout or an intense sporting game, you might be better off taking a cold shower afterward rather than a hot shower. You can always take a hot shower much later or after the fact.
How Can You Maximize a Cold Shower’s Benefits?
While the benefits of a cold shower after exercising are numerous, you have to take a cold shower the right way in order to see them.
If you jump into an ice-cold shower or bath (sometimes called a polar bear plunge) right after a workout, you might accidentally cause your muscles to stiffen up or lose flexibility. You might also cause your heart rate to speed up uncomfortably. Therefore, it’s not necessarily a wise idea to immediately turn the shower temperature down as low as it can go.
Instead, you’ll want to start a shower at moderately warm or lukewarm temperatures and only after cooling your body down using slow exercises and stretches. Then, step into the lukewarm water and use it to rinse off.
Only at the end of your shower should you turn the temperature down and apply cold water to your body. This will finish the cooldown and provide the possible recovery benefits mentioned above. After using cold water, you can turn the temperature back up to the hot setting if you want additional muscle soothing and relief.
As you can see, cold showers can be a major help to your workout recovery by maximizing blood flow, minimizing muscle soreness, and providing other advantages. Our advice? Try a cold shower the next time you finish one of your workouts to see if you prefer it over the former alternative.
There are other ways to maximize muscle recovery after working out, too. Check out 1AND1’s guides to physical and lifestyle wellness today.