Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 19, 2021

A nice, refreshing shower after a hard, sweaty workout sounds like a dream.

It cleanses you and relaxes your muscles, but should you turn the tap to hot or cold?

We’ve certainly seen athletes soaking in ice baths, but what about cold showers? Here’s everything you need to know!

Benefits of a Cold Shower After a Workout

A woman taking a shower cleaning her hair

Exercise puts a lot of stress and strain on your body, and a cold shower can help your recovery in many ways: 

Muscle Relief

It can help your blood vessels contract and prevent bruises and swelling and also improves your blood flow. A cold shower may also numb your nerve endings, providing your body instant pain relief. This is the main reason we use ice packs when we get injured.

Anti-Inflammatory Effect

Since working out inflames your body and inflammation isn't good, a cold shower can provide you with anti-inflammatory effects. That way, you'll recover quicker after a workout and reduce the post-workout DOMS you might experience.

Skin Cleansing

While working out, your pores open to release sweat. As helpful as this is, sweating and leftover dead skin cells can clog up the same pores and cause acne, whiteheads, and blackheads. A cold shower may help unclog pores to get rid of any bacterial build up post-workout.

Immune System Boost

A cold shower after a workout can quickly boost your immune system — if practiced regularly, of course. One study involving more than 300 participants proved that taking a daily shower that starts warm and ends with 30 to 90 second-bursts of cold water can significantly reduce the number of sick days used at work [1].

Best Way to Have a Cold Water Shower After a Workout

A woman cleaning her back in the shower

Showering with cold water isn’t as simple as “jump into the shower and switch the water to cold.” The process starts with finishing up your high-intensity exercise.

Here’s the most important advice on how to have a proper cool-down shower after a hard workout:

  • Cool down properly - First things first, you'll need to switch to a gentler form of exercise to cool down after your workout. The cool-down should start to lower your heart rate and should last for at least 5–10 minutes.
  • Stretch your muscles - Once your heart rate starts slowing down, you should begin stretching your muscles.
    A good stretch will help clear out lactic acid buildup and prevent soreness from an intense workout [2].
  • Start with lukewarm water- You should start showering at a lukewarm temperature to avoid shocking your body.
  • Gradually switch to cold water. As you start to cool down, you can adjust the water to make it colder.
    The main reason for this start is decreasing the inflammation in joints, tendons, and muscles.
    The cold water will lower your blood flow, stiffen your muscles and joints, resulting in less pain.
  • Get colder and target major muscles -  For the last 90 seconds, bring the water temperature down to as cold as you can stand. Hit your major muscle groups with a blast of cold water to re-energize and refresh your tired muscles.
  • Switch to warm water -  Next up, switch to hot water to avoid potential joint stiffness.
    A hot shower should also improve muscle and joint recovery, flush out any dead, inflammatory cells or scar tissue buildup, and improve your bone health.
  • That’s it! After you finish the hot shower, dry off completely with a clean towel and step into your post-exercise clothes.

"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." — Kristin Maynes, P.T., D.P.T.

Post-Workout Ice Bath as an Alternative to Cold Showers

A woman relaxing in her bath tub

Some athletes do a post-workout ice bath instead of taking a cold shower. Doing this is known to:

  • Start the muscle healing process
  • Reduce muscle inflammation
  • Contract your blood vessels
  • Increase the blood flow to your muscles
  • Flush out lactic acid

However, research has shown it's not better than a traditional cool-down, even though it's a good way for your muscles to recover.

FAQs

Why Do Athletes Use Ice Baths?

Athletes lower their body temperature with this method to decrease inflammation and prevent swelling. The post-exercise micro-tears in the muscles repair quicker and grow stronger after an ice bath.

How Soon After a Workout Should You Take a Cold Shower?

Some 20 minutes after a workout would be a good time for cold showering.

Are Cold Showers Bad For Muscle Growth?

While they’re not necessarily bad, some studies have discovered decreased long-term gains.

Do Cold Showers Raise Testosterone?

No, they don’t have any effect on your testosterone levels.

Should You Have A Cold Bath After Your Workout?

I'm a big fan of cold showers; they feel much better than ice baths. But, this is just my experience.

Do you practice cold showers, or is a nice warm shower enough for you? Please, share your experience and opinions in the comments!


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5025014/
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326521#:~:text=Lightly%20stretching%20the%20muscles%20after,lactic%20acid%20buildup%20may%20cause.

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