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The title pretty much sums up my question: is it more beneficial to take a hot (warm) shower after a workout or a cold one?

I've noticed that I tend to feel more relaxed while taking a warmer shower and my muscles loosen up, but when you see professional athletes, they seem to quickly ice themselves down.

So I was just wondering if one is more beneficial than the other.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

As athletes after a substantial workout ice baths (54 degrees Fahrenheit and below) is good for the body to halt the excessive blood flow which you have induced through stress training. This allows for faster recovery and allows the body to recharge the nervous system for the subsequent day; in an extremely minimal fashion though.

Hot tubbing (or hot showers) increases blood flow and allows specifically the joints and small muscles to warm up for your upcoming level of stress which you put your body under. The circulation welcomes more fluid distribution in your joints and acts as a cushion for the stress (say in running, jumping, Olympic lifting, etc...). These are best done BEFORE you work out.

I have found from experience that the trick is being consistent in ice bathing after each workout and even on your off days to ice bath to speed recovery. The less inflamed a muscle is the greater the opportunity you have to work it out again. Hence people prescribe 48-72 hours of rest before the next same muscle group stimulation.

There is always the option of doing transition showers. These are hot and cold showers which shock the body. You can time your transition showers by doing 1 minute hot and 3 minutes cold/cool.

Honestly take a mildly warm shower after you workout. The extra sweat releases the toxins your body built up for the workout. See it as doing an extended cool down with stretching in a warm room. The muscles relax and the toxins of stress are released from the body. The cold shower won't make a substantial difference in your recovery unless you stand there for 20 minutes straight in freezing cold water.

As George Constanza put it so eloquently "Cold Showers? They're for psychotics".

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Cold showers/icing help reduce swelling and inflammation.

I view it the same way as treating acute injuries: you ice the first 24-48 hrs, then heat.

OTOH, I dislike cold showers, so my view, and my actions, aren't always in alignment.

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What do you mean by "less-acute injuries"? Does that mean just normal exhaustion from a workout? – Dan W Jun 12 '12 at 13:23
@DanW I meant the opposite; not sure what happened there. – Dave Newton Jun 12 '12 at 13:25

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