Hot or Cold: What's the Best Way to Shower After a Workout?
The verdict, once and for all
Have you heard of recovery showers? Apparently, there's a better way to rinse off after an intense workout-one that boosts recovery. Best part? It's not an ice bath.
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 Dr. Kristin Maynes, PT, DPT. "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:
"After a workout, you want to start off with cold-an ice bath or cold shower-to aid in the decrease in inflammation of muscles, joints, and tendons," said Dr. Maynes. Exercise inflames these parts of your body, and as she put it, "it's unhealthy to be in an inflamed state for prolonged periods of time."
The cold water locally decreases blood flow, 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 said. "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." (Related: The Benefits of Cold Showers Will Make You Rethink Your Bathing Habits)
Then switch to hot. "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." 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 said. "This is very good to use in the subacute and chronic stages of an injury."
That said, if you're injured, she stressed 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 Workout Recovery?
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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