After a hot day of workout, sometimes what feels good is a nice soak in cold water. We then hear that hot water helps the muscles relax better, promoting recovery from fatigue. On the other hand, it is common knowledge that cold water is used to cool down high temperatures to prevent the body from over heating. Which method of showering reaps the most benefits after a workout or is there a way to maximise the benefits from both temperatures? Let’s take a closer look.
The same way heat expands matter, a hot shower dilates your blood vessels, increases blood flow and relaxes your muscles. When there is an increase in blood flow, muscle soreness and tightness is reduced. After a vigorous routine, the warm water and steam can bring soothing relieve to the tensed muscles.
Heat is also known to open up pores, thus a warm shower helps get all the dirt trapped in the pores out. Hair experts have said that warm water helps the hair cuticles to open up and strip the hair strands off dirt or oils!
In addition, be it your blood vessels, your skin or your hair cuticles, application of heat helps open them up to improve the blood flow. Is improved blood flow always a good thing though? Well, in cases of injuries, prolonged inflammation or swelling, vasodilation from heat would serve only to aggravate it. Therefore, a cold shower would be a better option.
Instead of increasing blood flow towards your skin, a cold shower causes vasoconstriction. This means that the blood vessels contract, creating a flush for lactic acid built up in tired muscle tissues. Constricted blood vessels also reduce inflammation that comes with heat, bringing about some inflammatory-related pain relief and decrease in swelling. A study from Petrovsky (2015) has shown that muscular micro-tears from exercise is better medicated by a cold shower than a hot one, reducing DOMs more effectively. During a workout, your body produces heat and the internal temperature of your body rises. To stop the body from overheating, the body perspires to remove excess heat. Just as cold drinks contribute to lowering the body’s temperature, so does a cold shower! The cold water reduces body temperature and aids in maintaining homeostasis by getting the body back to its normal temperature.
From the benefits analyzed above, both showers do play a part post-exercise. Is it then possible to reap the benefits from both showering methods by simply applying both and alternating the water temperature? YES! In fact, studies have shown increased effectiveness when both hot and cold showers are combined. By implementing the cold shower first, the vasoconstriction creates a pumping motion for blood to be better circulated. By alternating between cold and hot, the body is better able to flush out waste and circulate blood. The contrast from cold to hot is also said to help with stiffness prevention!
Having said all that, it is important to note again that heat should be avoided during the acute stages of injuries. If you are unsure which methods to implement for your personal recovery, do consult your physio for a professional advice.
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