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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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As athletes after a substantial workout ice baths (54 degrees Fahrenheit / 12 degrees Celsius 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".

  • I don't agree the first part. When you apply ice bath body deliver more blood to protect extremities from the necrosis after some time. What you wrote is acute effect of ice, However, for rehabilitation purpose ice bath was used like that. – bantandor Aug 15 '16 at 12:51
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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.

  • 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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Just to add some research evidence to back up the two other answers:

A Cochrane systematic review: Leeder, Jonathan, Conor Gissane, Ken van Someren, Warren Gregson, and Glyn Howatson. "Cold water immersion and recovery from strenuous exercise: a meta-analysis." British journal of sports medicine (2011): bjsports-2011. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cluster=17487784705795906396&hl=en&as_sdt=0,22 ; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD008262.pub2/full

There was some evidence that cold-water immersion reduces delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise compared with passive interventions involving rest or no intervention. There was insufficient evidence to conclude on other outcomes or for other comparisons. The majority of trials did not undertake active surveillance of pre-defined adverse events. High quality, well reported research in this area is required.

A more detailed abstract:

Delayed onset muscle soreness commonly results after sports and exercise activity. Cold-water immersion (CWI), which involves people immersing themselves in water at temperatures of less than 15°C, is sometimes used to manage muscle soreness after exercise and to speed up recovery time.

Our review included 17 small trials, involving a total of 366 participants. Study quality was low. Fourteen trials compared cold-water immersion applied after exercise with 'passive' treatment involving rest or no treatment. The temperature, duration and frequency of cold-water immersion varied between the different trials as did the exercises and settings. There was some evidence that cold-water immersion reduces muscle soreness at 24, 48, 72 and even at 96 hours after exercise compared with 'passive' treatment. Limited evidence from four trials indicated that participants considered that cold-water immersion improved recovery/reduced fatigue immediately afterwards. Most of the trials did not consider complications relating to cold-water immersion and so we cannot say whether these are a problem. There were only limited data available for other comparisons of cold-water immersion versus warm or contrasting (alternative warm/cold) water immersion, light jogging, and compression stockings. None of these showed important differences between the interventions being compared.

While the evidence shows that cold-water immersion reduces delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise, the optimum method of cold-water immersion and its safety are not clear.

A few other systematic reviews:

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