Taking a cold shower after a workout is an incredibly rewarding and effective way to cool off after an intense workout. Moreover, a cold shower after a workout increases blood circulation and reduces inflammation.
However, is this healthy or good for you? Does it have any side effects that you should worry about? To answer that, let’s first understand what happens to your body while you’re working out and afterwards.
What Happens When You Work Out
To be fair, a lot of things happen when you workout. There are entire processes that happen in your body even as you simply rotate your hand. We’ll be simplifying a lot of these processes to make it easier for you to digest as well as avoid making this article into a medical book.
Whenever you exercise and feel the adrenaline going through your veins, you’ll notice that your heart beats faster and you feel much stronger, much more empowered. This is because our heart is working overtime to deliver enough oxygen around our body to create energy efficiently for working out.
However, it’s inevitable that the energy we breathe in doesn’t always reach our muscles in time or fall short of the necessary energy to lift hundreds of pounds—or kilos. This is when lactic acid comes in.
Lactate or lactic acid is a byproduct caused by extreme and consistent use of muscles. When there isn’t enough oxygen to produce pyruvate, which helps produce energy in the metabolic cycle, glycogen is used instead.
The byproduct of this using glycogen results in lactic acid which can also be used for energy but it has its pros and cons. Without diving into the details, lactic acids form all around your muscles when you workout.
While lactic acid is actually an energy source, too much build-up can cause physiological problems with your body. To avoid increased soreness and possible muscle cramps, lactic acid eventually is released from your body within 24 hours.
However, even if lactic acid has been released from your body, you will still feel muscle soreness especially days after working out.
Moderate vs Intense Workouts
Will you be able to increase or decrease the amount of lactic acid build-up in your body depending on your type of exercise? Yes. Lactic acid builds up much quicker in intense workouts since training this way usually means pushing yourself to the limit.
This is most common in anaerobic exercises where you’re running or consistently out of breath. For situations like this, lactic acid gives you a lot more energy than normal since your oxygen levels are low.
In cases like that, your heart won’t be able to keep up with the demand for oxygen thus resulting in more glycogen and lactic acid all around your body. Now, this doesn’t mean moderate training doesn’t produce lactic acid.
Just because you don’t feel as sore or fatigued doesn’t mean lactic acid didn’t build up in your system, it just means that there isn’t enough lactic acid to completely make you nauseated. Simply put, lactic acid still forms regardless, just not as much with moderate workouts.
Benefits of a Cold Shower After Workout
Now that you understand what happens to your body when you workout, it’s time to go over the benefits of both cold and hot showers. These two are generally perceived as polar opposites, yet surprisingly some gymheads like to combine hot and cold.
An intense workout can often leave you steaming and warm from all the adrenaline. Rewarding yourself with a cold shower is a great way to cool off and rest your muscles after picking up the weights.
Here are the benefits:
1. Reduces Inflammation
Working out essentially damages our cells enough to repair them into bigger and stronger muscles. When our body realizes that we’re under physical stress, blood and other cells come into play to repair our body.
The surge of these blood vessels can cause acute inflammation since these blood vessels gather in groups around damaged muscles. While inflammation can arguably influence muscle growth, it’s not a good idea to have prolonged or excessive inflammation, especially after an intense workout.
2. Increases Circulation
By splashing yourself with cold water after an intense workout, the surface of your skin constricts, forcing deeper parts of your body to move blood quicker. Doing this will reduce blood flow around the surface of your body which will eventually lower your temperature.
To mitigate that, your heart is forced to pump out more blood to maintain the ideal body temperature. Increasing your circulation reduces inflammation and flushes out the lactic acid in your muscles much faster than normal.
While it’s not the same as an ice bath or cryogenic chamber, the same principles apply for strongmen who take extremely cold recovery baths after working out. We’ll expound on the benefits and differences of that later.
Benefits of a Hot Shower After Workout
On the other end of the spectrum, hot showers also provide a lot of health benefits when taken after an intense workout. Besides removing dirt easier and feeling better, hot showers can also do a lot for your heart and blood flow.
1. Increases Blood Flow
Blood flowing through your body helps you unwind and relieve sore muscles. Included in this are muscles that are tense or even in a knot. While hot showers do increase circulation by a little bit, the actual increase here is the amount of blood flowing through your body.
By bathing in hot water, your muscles are loosened up from the intense workout which takes away a lot of initial stress and fatigue.
2. Other Perks of Hot Showers
Though the information behind this is still quite hazy, hot showers supposedly activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps relieve tension by relaxing the muscles. Furthermore, hot showers loosen up phlegm, open up your airways, and can clear nasal passages to relieve other parts of your body.
Taking Both Hot And Cold Showers
It’s not uncommon for people to enjoy both types of showers. While you can go about this in different ways and for various sets of time, we generally recommend going under a hot shower first and ending with a cold one.
Doing this will open up your pores first, which should give you a cleaner and more satisfying bath. Before stepping out, rinse yourself with cold water to close your pores and decrease your body’s temperature.
This way, even if you just do a cold shower for a quick two minutes, you won’t be sweating out of your shirt once you’re done changing. Additionally, cold showers will close up your pores and increase circulation which should make you feel much better once you’re done.
The Specifics Of Inflammation
If you’ve ever searched about inflammation online, you might come across articles that talk about injuries, bacteria, and viruses. To be fair, there are a lot of cases that cause inflammation and, at the same time, there are different types of inflammation with varying effects.
For working out, this typically deals with acute inflammation which is simply your body trying to repair itself after your intense workout.
Symptoms Of Inflammation
Spotting signs of inflammation is thankfully pretty easy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the pain and annoyance any easier. Here are a couple of symptoms to help you spot any signs of inflammation around your body:
- Redness – look out for signs of redness around your body, especially with your joints. Inflamed muscles will stay red for hours.
- Joint Pain and Stiffness – particularly much more common on knees and shoulders, inflamed joints will be painful and even stiff to move.
- Warm Joints – inflamed joints are warm and even a little hot due to heat as a byproduct of the energy used to repair the stress on your muscles. Put your hand over red spots to check if it’s warm or even slightly hot.
Other signs and symptoms involve muscle stiffness and fatigue. On an unrelated note, these are also symptoms of inflammation but they shouldn’t occur from just working out: slight fevers, chills, headaches, and even a loss of appetite.
Short-term and generally not serious, acute inflammation is the type of inflammation you get when working out. Acute inflammation is a response to broken muscle cells or injured tissues.
Inflammation that happens this way will dissipate within a couple of days and isn’t a serious health risk. However, this can slow down your recovery process which is why cold showers are effective ways to help recover your body from an intense workout.
On the other hand, this type of inflammation shouldn’t be an issue under normal circumstances since you won’t experience this from working out. Chronic inflammation is serious and can be life-threatening especially if it happens in the wrong place.
This type of inflammation can happen in your head, heart, organs, serious joints, and so on which can cripple, if not, make you bedridden. You won’t get these from just working out though, but always remember to be careful as concussions can inflame and potentially be chronic.
Chronic inflammation requires medication and surgery to remove or treat, which is undoubtedly expensive.
Related: How to Get Flexible Fast
Alternatives To Cold Showers After a Workout
On the other hand, there are other alternatives to cold showers that are much more effective given that you can afford them. Although this might be too much for the regular gym-goer, the science behind how these work can help us arrive to a better conclusion later on.
Classic Freezing Ice Bath
Ice baths are a classic technique that’s used pervasively, even in Hollywood movies. Why not? Ice baths are affordable and, for quite a while, was the best way to recover from intense workout sessions.
The ice cold water you plunge into during ice baths reduces inflammation by much bigger factors compared to a simple cold shower. Constricting your blood vessels with the cold and dilating them with warm temperatures—when you get out—help flush away metabolic waste like lactic acid after working out.
Now there are a lot of other famous and expensive alternatives to the ice bath in recent years. However, cryotherapy is arguably the most famous alternative since most sessions only last up to three minutes and are extremely effective.
Although it is a bit on the pricier side, cryogenic chambers help relieve muscle pains, sores, and reduce inflammation much better than regular ice baths. It’s worth noting that cryotherapy is a hundred and more degrees colder than ice baths. Furthermore, since liquid nitrogen doesn’t actually touch your skin, there is no risk for frostbite.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cold Shower After Workout
Is taking a cold shower after working out bad?
No. A cold shower will reduce inflammation in your muscles, help flush out lactic acid, and increase the circulation in your body. All of which are great ways to help you recover faster and avoid possibly long acute inflammation which can lengthen recovery.
Do cold showers help build muscle?
To be honest, the research on this is a little hazy. A lot of articles will claim that it does increase build muscle while others will point you to research that says it reduces muscle gain. There are a lot of factors in muscle growth, like diet and workout intensity.
While cold showers and increased muscle growth aren’t necessarily directly correlated, taking a cold shower will increase the rate of recovery for your body. With that, you should be able to workout more frequently and not feel as sore which does build muscle.
Should I take a cold shower immediately after working out?
A common wife’s tale will tell you otherwise, but yes, you should. Showering after a workout is a great way to protect your body from breakouts and decreases your body’s temperature much faster than if you were to just wait. However, keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to jump in immediately.
Related: How to Build Muscle Without Weights
A Final Word on Cold Showers
Taking a cold shower after workout is a great way to relieve your muscles, increase blood circulation, and assists your body in flushing out the lactic acid building up in your muscles. Furthermore, the cold temperatures will also reduce the inflammation in your muscles, which will help aid in recovery and prevent acute inflammation.
At the same time, for increased comfort, cold showers ironically make you feel much better once you’re dried. This way won’t have to live with feeling hot and sweating through your clothes which would normally happen after a hot shower.