In the battle of cold versus hot shower after a workout, which temperature does science say reigns supreme?
The concept of a “recovery shower” is alternating temperatures from hot to cold. Is this an effective way to stimulate circulation and aid in muscular recovery? “There is no yes or no answer to this question,” said Kristin Maynes, P.T., D.P.T. “We all have to remember that every person’s body is different and may react to certain therapies differently.” That said, she totally recommends recovery showers.
“Yes, it can be an effective aid to muscle or injury recovery; however only for someone without an acute injury,” she told POPSUGAR. So as this is a great general method for recovery, keep in mind that if you’re dealing with an injury, you’ll need to discuss this with your own physical therapist. “If there is no injury, it [can] speed up the recovery process, keep the body mobile, and prevent stiffness.” Here’s how the recovery shower works:
You want to start off with a cold shower after a workout to aid in the decrease in inflammation of muscles, joints, and tendons, says Maynes. Exercise inflames these parts of your body, “it’s unhealthy to be in an inflamed state for prolonged periods of time,” she explains.
The cold water from a shower after a workout decreases blood flow locally, reducing inflammation, stiffening the muscles and joints—thus decreasing pain (just like icing an injury). This is “very important for immediate recovery and works well in the acute stages of injury or right after a workout,” she says. “It is like a ‘pause’ button in the healing process to decrease the body’s quick response to injury, which can be very painful at times.”
Then switch to a hot shower after a workout. “This will improve muscle and joint recovery to flush out all the build-up of inflammatory cells, dead cells, scar tissue build-up, etc. to improve the health of the bones,” says Maynes. Going from cold to hot also helps with potential stiffness. You know how you sometimes can’t walk after leg day? Try a cold-to-hot shower. “This can also aid in the improvement of mobility of body structures so stiffness does not set in,” she says. “This is very good to use in the subacute and chronic stages of an injury.”
That said, if you’re injured, Maybes stresses that this is not the way to recover. “You do not want to use heat in the first few days up to a week of an injury,” so avoid this kind of recovery shower.
The Best Kind of Shower After a Workout
So really, it’s not deciding between a hot or cold shower after a workout: The answer is both.
Post-workout recovery is essential, and it varies for everyone. “If you are active in aiding your recovery after an intense workout [with] stretching, foam rolling, yoga, etc., then adding an alternating hot shower or an ice bath is going to help,” said Dr. Maynes. “Find out what works best for your body whether it be a hot shower, ice bath, or both; stick to it and it will help you.”
But be patient! “Nothing works in a day; you have to do it more than once to see an effect.”
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