It’s not unusual to hear me from the hallway squealing in the shower after a hard workout. Not just once, but multiple times. It’s something I do out of a desire to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and recover faster so I can go as hard as I can on my next workout. After reading this article, maybe you’ll start squealing in the shower too.
Thankfully it’s not necessary every day as it’s most effective right after a strenuous strength session, so your masochistic efforts to have more awesome workouts will only come around a few times each week. I’m talking about Contrast Water Therapy, or its more common name: Contrast Showers. When done right, they’ll reduce DOMS and not only make your rest days more restful, but enable you to go harder your next work day.
What’s A Contrast Shower And Why Would I Want To Do It?
There’s some debate on how to go about a proper contrast shower. First off, it doesn’t have to be a shower, but showers are easier and more practical for most people. You could also repeat this with a hot tub or sauna and a pool or bathtub full of ice – but again that’s rather impractical for most people. So, here’s how you do it:
- Take a shower (I would hope this is a given) beginning with cold or cool water
- Adjust temperature to hot for 30-60 seconds
- Adjust temperature to cold for 30-60 seconds
- Squeal, scream, or shout your expletive of choice
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 a few more times
- End shower on whichever temperature you like (I prefer cold)
Does the timing matter? Does the number of rounds matter? There’s a lot of opinions/methods and from what I’ve gathered, the most common is 30-60 seconds per temperature and three-to-four rounds. If your workout session was particularly tough, then maybe consider going longer and/or doing more rounds. Important elements of this are the shock to your muscles from the alternating temperature, and letting the water run over them long enough for the muscles to adapt to that temperature. Another caveat is that you must begin with cold or cool water but you can end on whatever temperature pleases you.
If doing rounds sounds unappealing an alternative would be to begin with a cold shower, after a while turn it up to hot, and then finish with cold water. Though this method is not as effective.
I’m sure by now you’re thinking that this sounds crazy, and I thought the same too when I first heard of it. But the science on why it works sounded convincing and so I gave it a shot. My experiences lined up with what the purported benefits: reduced DOMS and faster recovery. Another side benefit I’ve noticed (and anecdotal evidence confirms) is that despite the initial shock, by the time you are done you feel great and completely relaxed.
How Does It Work?
Contrast showers work primarily by prevention/reduction of swelling from the cold water which will reduce DOMS, along with increased blood flow from the hot water which enables the muscles to recover faster. You must begin with cold in order to reduce the swelling, but again what you end on is up to you. Beginning with hot water would increase blood flow to the muscles which will increase the rate of swelling, and thus also prolonging the healing process.
The switch between hot and cold water causes your blood vessels to widen and contract (vasodilation and vasoconstriction) which has the added benefit of promoting better blood circulation and restoration of the blood vessels’ elasticity.
Don’t Let DOMS Be The Enemy of a Workout
Lots of people love their DOMS, and the soreness from a great workout is very fulfilling, but it can increase your recovery time and negatively effect how hard your next workout will be. One of the best ways to improve the recovery of your muscles is to take a contrast shower – or find some way to mimic the effects of the hot-and-cold water.
Are you daring enough to try a contrast shower – or have you already tried it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Krikit â™¥’s