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Are Hot or Cold Showers Better for Muscle Recovery

Are Hot or Cold Showers Better for Muscle Recovery

by Tanner Neuberger, PT, DPT, TDN Level 13 Comments

If you are reading this blog, you are interested in the best strategies to enhance your muscle growth and recovery. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, someone trying to build muscle, or someone who participates in sports competitions, you are trying to maximize your recovery and performance in any way you can. This blog looks at the strategy of manipulating shower temperature to facilitate recovery, usually from DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness). To understand recovery, we first must understand DOMS and the role inflammation plays in our body.

Acute inflammation is a cellular signaling response within the body to heal damaged or injured tissue. It is a process that gets triggered with enough stimulation of muscle tissue, such as resistance training. There is also evidence that DOMS is not caused entirely by muscle damage but rather by neural end-plate compression (nerve irritation)1. Inflammation is the body’s way of signaling that healing and repair need to occur, and if we are trying to grow our muscles, we want this process to occur. Using cold showers (cold water immersion, or CWI, in research), long-term, will attenuate the anabolic signaling that occurs in muscles2 through the reduction of inflammation. I.e., you will decrease your ability to build a maximum amount of muscle, which directly contradicts the goal of building muscle. CWI will reduce muscular inflammation and help decrease DOMS, which is great under the right circumstances, typically in between bouts of competitions where you don’t want excessive muscle soreness to limit your performance capabilities. There are many other ways to help facilitate muscle recovery that doesn’t involve the potential reduction of muscle growth; a few to start with are increased sleep, 10-30 minute walk, light exercise, and increased hydration and protein consumption.

With the information above, I can recommend the following use of shower temperatures for muscle recovery, use whatever you are comfortable with. Growth and recovery happen when we are in a parasympathetic nervous system state (rest and digest). You should use whatever temperature helps you relax the most, which will help your body transition back into this nervous system state. For me, warm water works best for relaxation, but your results might be different. If you are a competitive athlete that needs immediate recovery, cold water immersion can help attenuate the soreness you would’ve felt to help you perform at your peak. However, in terms of hierarchy of modalities to help muscle recovery, water temperature is very low on the list and not worth obsessing over. Just continue to load your muscle progressively, get enough sleep, and eat enough food; most of your muscle gains will occur with those simple items.

If you need help with recovery due to excessive soreness from a misaligned training program, reach out to your local Athletico today to schedule a free assessment. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our telehealth platform.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Sonkodi B, Berkes I, Koltai E. Have We Looked in the Wrong Direction for More Than 100 Years? Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Is, in Fact, Neural Microdamage Rather Than Muscle Damage. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(3):212. Published 2020 Mar 5. doi:10.3390/antiox9030212
2. Roberts LA, Raastad T, Markworth JF, et al. Post-exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long-term adaptations in muscle to strength training. J Physiol. 2015;593(18):4285-4301. doi:10.1113/JP270570

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  1. Chris

    If cold showers or baths are done hours after a workout, will it still blunt muscle gains or will it help them?

  2. Jeremy

    The studies you cited don’t mention cold showers. Cold showers ≠ CWI. They are vastly different if you have ever done both. A 10-minute cold plunge would obviously have different effects than a 3-5 minute shower.

  3. John

    If you take a cold shower after a workout, do you still gain strength, but not muscle? Or is it like if you take a cold shower after a workout you don’t gain your full potential in both muscle and strength?

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