Professional athletes have been known to go to extreme lengths to relieve muscle tension and soreness post-workout. Some engage in cupping and cryotherapy, others soak in ice baths or sit in saunas. At-home athletes and casual exercisers can mimic the soothing effects of these various healing techniques in their own shower.
Exposure to the cold and heat have both been shown to alleviate body soreness and aches immediately after and also 24 hours after workouts. A 2015 study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found cold wraps to be more effective pain relievers than heat wraps. However, heat was shown to better preserve muscle strength after a tough workout.
People’s bodies and preferred shower temperatures differ. For those looking to reap the benefits of both the heat and cold, contrast showering offers a sort of happy medium. Start your shower with warm water. After a few minutes of heat, turn the dial to the coldest it can go. After a minute of freezing, return again to heat. Repeat the cycle a couple more times before ending with chilly water.
The shock of moving from cold to warm water works to constrict and dilate your blood vessels, a form of hydrotherapy called water therapy. Contrast showers are said to help alleviate pain as well as retain muscle strength and power. A 2013 meta-analysis of contrast shower studies found contrast showering to be just as effective as many more common post-workout recovery interventions like warm or cold water immersion, compression, or stretching.
Despite water therapy’s long history, the physical benefits of contrast showering are still debated by experts. Still, many swear by the soothing powers of contrast showering. It can alleviate soreness and pain following a gym or home workout routine.