Should You Take A Cold Shower After A Run?

There are a lot of rituals runners engage in after a run, so should you take a cold shower after a run? Is a hot shower better? Let’s dig in to learn more.

One of the things most of us hate after an intense workout or run is those nagging sore muscles that seem only to want to punish us for exercising. So, would a cold shower after a run help? While there are many creams, gels, and supplements people take to reduce post-run inflammation, taking cold showers is surprisingly effective too. Let’s learn more.

The Benefits Of Cold Showers Post-Run

cold shower after a run
Cold showers cool down your body, allowing it to focus blood flow to your digestive system

Many people dislike cold showers, but they do have benefits that make them worth the discomfort. When you exercise, your body warms up as your blood flows through your heart, muscles, and skin. The heart pumps blood throughout your body as your muscles begin working harder.

As for your skin, it produces sweat as a way of cooling your body down to prevent overheating. This process continues even after you work out as your body regulates its temperature.

Cold showers cool down your body, allowing it to focus blood flow to your digestive system, where it can focus on digesting nutrients and hydration. This means you should feel less fatigued the next day.

Recovery is a critical part of developing a stronger body as your body delivers key nutrients and much-needed energy to the right organs and muscles while ridding the body of waste products such as lactic acid with greater efficiency. The cold temperature causes your blood vessels to contract, flushing the lactic acid buildup from your tired muscles.

Cold Showers And Your Brain

If you’ve ever heard the saying: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” you might be surprised to learn that it’s more than a cheesy slogan mass-produced on posters hanging on office walls worldwide. The sentiment has a scientific name — hormesis, a biological reaction in which the body extracts positive results from low doses of stressors that would prove harmful in higher doses.

Things like intermittent fasting, oxygen restriction, and cold water exposure can all stimulate this bodily response. Our neurotransmitters and hormones go into high gear when we become exposed to these stressors, which can lead to increased mental and psychological resilience.

A five-minute cold shower two to three times per week for up to five minutes per session can also improve other conditions. According to one study published in the Journal of Medical Hypothesis, subjects experienced a decrease in the symptoms of depression.

Cold water decreases cortisol levels while increasing serotonin. And the rush of adrenaline you get from cold water hitting your skin creates a chemical called norepinephrine, which assists in focus, energy, and overall performance. Cold showers can produce effects similar to pushing through another few reps in the gym, pushing through the last stretch of a marathon, and improving your mental and physical strength and discipline.

Treating DOMS

One thing runners and anyone who works out hate is delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is especially stressful for those who are just getting started, as the pain often discourages most people from sticking with their routine and makes it that much harder to get back into it. You might be interested in learning about the correct arm position while running.

DOMS, also known as muscle fever, is caused by temporary muscle inflammation and damage. The damage is necessary for the recovery or rebuilding process that strengthens our muscles. According to a study published in 2015, cold water, when applied to the body immediately after a strenuous workout, proved better at relieving symptoms of DOMS than hot water.

What About Hot Showers After A Run?

hot shower after a run
The heat from a hot shower also opens up your pores, allowing trapped dirt to wash out

Hot showers also have their benefits after a run. Just as heat expands matter, taking a hot shower will dilate your blood vessels while increasing blood flow and relaxing your stressed muscles. Your body also experiences increased blood flow which can reduce tightness and soreness after an especially vigorous round of exercise.

The heat from a hot shower also opens up your pores, allowing trapped dirt to wash out. And warm water can also open up hair cuticles stripping oils and dirt. However, in the case of injuries, swelling, or prolonged inflammation, the vasodilation caused by the heat may only aggravate these conditions, which are better treated with a cold shower.

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How Cold Should A Shower Be?

Everyone has a different interpretation of cold, especially after a run when your body is running at a higher-than-normal temperature. However, there really isn’t a right answer to this question. Certainly, you don’t want to submerge in water so cold it induces severe shock, but you also need it to be cold enough to introduce a light shock or discomfort to your system.

The correct answer depends largely on how long you can tolerate the shower. Like exercise, getting acclimated to taking longer cold showers might start with taking short ones that last no more than two to four minutes and gradually build up to 10 minutes. Some people start with only 30 seconds and build from there.

When getting started, try building up your tolerance gradually, reducing the temperature to see how long your body can handle it.