Do you take a cold shower after exercise? Find out if this is a good practice.
Let’s face it. Working out is tough and the feeling of cold water caressing tired muscles after a strenuous workout is indescribably delicious. When you head back home after a long run or a challenging resistance training session at the gym, is it a good idea to take a cold shower? More importantly, is it safe?
There are various thoughts on the issue of taking a cold shower after exercise. Some experts believe icy, cold water is too much shock for a body that’s over heated, and it’s wiser to take a lukewarm shower to allow the body to recover more gradually. Other fitness experts believe that taking a cold shower can actually facilitate the recovery process.
When muscles are challenged and stressed through exercise, particularly, resistance training, muscle fibers develop microscopic tears. The areas where the muscle fibers have been torn become inflamed which leads to the phenomenon of post-workout soreness. Gradually, these small tears are healed and the muscle fibers are rebuilt which leads to visible improvement in muscle tone. In the meantime, those microscopic torn muscle fibers and the associated inflammation can cause significant muscle soreness, particularly if you’ve just started working out or if you’ve worked a little too hard.
Some fitness experts believe that if you take a cold shower after exercise, you can decrease the inflammation that leads to post-workout soreness. A cold shower causes the blood vessels to contract which may help to relieve some of the post workout inflammatory changes. Disappointingly, one study that looked at the effect of submerging muscles in ice after exercise, showed it to be ineffective for relieving exercise induced muscle soreness. Despite this, there are many people who believe that a cold shower after exercise helps.
Some sources say that alternating cold and warm water showers is more effective than using exclusively cold water. This therapy called contrast water therapy was found in some small studies to be beneficial for preventing muscle soreness after exercise. It basically involves alternating two minutes of warm water and thirty seconds of cold water, repeating this sequence up to four times.
If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, it may not be wise to take a cold shower after exercise. Cold water constricts blood vessels which can cause blood pressure to rise quickly. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that taking a cold shower causes substantial rises in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures as well as elevations in pulse rate even in normal people. To be safe, check with your doctor before taking cold showers after exercising.