A cold shower is great for waking up in the morning, but should you take one after your workout?
Maybe you work out daily. Or maybe you only exercise a few times a week, despite your good intentions. Were not here to talk about how often you ought to be exercising by the way, thats 2.5 hours of moderate activity every week. Were here to talk about the one thing you likely have in common with almost every other athlete. Whatever fitness level you currently find yourself in, one things for sure: Youre probably going to want a shower after that workout.
When youre working out, your heart increases how much oxygen-rich blood it pumps to your muscles. You do warm-up exercises to get your body ready for the physiological stress exercise can induce, and you should always make time after your workout for cooling down. Similar to how you eased your body into exercise with a warm up, just five to 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise can help reduce that light-headed feeling and help your muscles recover more rapidly. When you suddenly stop your activity, blood pools in your muscles instead of flowing back to your heart. Thats the point of cooling down.
And after your cool-down? Most of us jump in the shower to relieve muscle and joint aches, and no one will argue that a nice, steamy-hot shower feels great on tired muscles. That post-workout shower also helps to wash sweat and bacteria off your skin. A cold shower, however, is a different story, with a different outcome.
Post-workout: Cool Down with a Cold Shower
A hot shower encourages blood flow toward your skin, soothing your muscles. You relax. You feel good. A cold shower does the opposite. In response to the cold temperature, your body will do its best to protect your internal organs, encouraging the blood to flow away from the outer extremities and skin. Why is this good?
When you exercise, your heart rate increases to support your bodys needs. Lactic acid builds up in muscles when theyre deprived of oxygen, a normal occurrence when your workout is intense and your body dips into its energy reserves (glucose) to meet the intense energy need. When people talk about "feeling the burn," its the lactic acid thats behind that bite.
Cold temperatures immediately after your cool-down help bring your heart rate down and increase your circulation, which in turn helps reduce your recovery time. The increased level of blood your heart pumped to match your bodys needs wont be allowed to pool in your tired muscles, and those muscles will clear the lactic acid more quickly.
Cold Shower Benefits #Video
Additionally, exercise can cause muscles to become inflamed the swelling caused by small tears in the muscle fiber and a cold shower may help to minimize soft tissue inflammation and its associated pain.
Overall, if youre healthy, a cold shower after aerobic exercise may help to constrict blood vessels and decrease your metabolic activity, which equals less tissue damage and less swelling. Endurance athletes may want to try something a little more intense as part of their cool down: ice baths. An ice bath involves soaking in cool water for 15 to 20 minutes post-workout, and you can decrease the temperature as you begin to adjust to the cold. Accompany your cold shower with a sports massage, and youll not only reduce the build-up of lactic acid in your post-workout muscles to reduce soreness and swelling, but youll also boost your circulation and loosen tight muscles.
BEST OF BOTH: CONTRAST TEMPERATURE WATER THERAPY
Contrast temperature water therapy is a technique where you alternate soaking in hot and cold water as part of your exercise recovery. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that athletes who tried this therapy had significant reduction in both heart rate and blood lactate levels compared to those who only used their regular cool-down methods of low-intensity exercise.