Not braving a cold, post-workout shower? Here’s what you might be missing out on.
Since the gyms have re-opened, we’ve have been getting our fitness regimes back on track, with renewed access to all the weights and equipment we need and want. And if you’ve been struggling to recover after those tough training sessions, you might be looking for ways to better support your muscles post-workout. While few things might sound less pleasant than a shower in icy cold water, it turns out that those of us who are too afraid to brave the chill are missing out on a whole load of benefits.
In fact, the Wim Hof method – which is growing in popularity amongst trainers and athletes – is all about the physical and psychological benefits of immersing yourself in the cold. It combines cold therapy, breathing techniques and a commitment to moving outside of your comfort zone, in order to help “boost your immune system, sleep better, reduce inflammation and enhance nature’s own mood boosters”.
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But can we really get all of those benefits just from a cold shower? We asked fitness trainers and Strong Women ambassadors Emma Obayuvana and Alice Miller, and personal trainer and founder of The Athlete Method Kerry Dixon, exactly why cold showers are so good for you, and why we should consider working them into our post-workout routine.
While they agree that cold showers won’t help to increase your strength, they all think that they are great to work into your recovery. As Emma explains, one of the most notable benefits of taking a cold shower after a workout is that they can help to reduce muscle soreness, “by way of reducing muscle inflammation, swelling and pain”. It’s the same principle as applying an ice pack to a pulled muscle, but for the whole body.
Kerry explains that this has to do with the fact that “cold water constricts your blood vessels”, leading to a “reduction on metabolic activity that limits swelling and tissue breakdown”. Not only is this beneficial during the shower, but it also causes other positive effects to occur once you warm up. You see, when you’re out of the cold and your body warms up again, “blood will rush back to the affected muscles”. This “helps to flush out any unwanted by-products like lactic acid more efficiently, and deliver key nutrients and energy to your muscles and organs”.
Showering in cold water constricts and narrows the blood vessels around the heart, too. This means that “the heart has to work a little harder to keep blood flowing through the body”, says Kerry. Over time, this can “improve your circulation and overall health” – but you’ll have to make the icy showers a habit in order to reap this benefit.
There aren’t just physical benefits to taking cold showers. Emma points to studies (such as this one from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine) that show “that cold showers trigger the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters”. This will leave you feeling “energised, alert, and in a better mood” – something that Alice can attest to, having been taking cold showers every day for a month now.
But Alice also recommends not diving right in at the deep end when you’re first trying it out. She suggests “starting with 20 to 30 seconds at the end of your normal showers”, and then working your way up to doing the full thing.
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