A shower after a heavy and satisfying workout or a game is a godsend. It not just cleanses, but also leaves you mentally and physically refreshed. It aids recovery too. While experts and fitness aficionados agree on the many benefits of a post-workout shower, they are divided on one point: should it be a hot-water or cold-water shower? Well, both help in recovery and managing inflammation and soreness, as well as enhancing the mood.
Post-workout: hot water and isometric strength
Data from a 2021 research paper, ‘Influence of post-exercise hot-water therapy on long-term adaptations to training in elite short-track speed skaters’, shows that hot-water bathing after training helped maintain high performance levels in athletes. It concluded that hot-water baths can be advised for gains in muscle isometric strength.
“Vasodilation [widening of the blood vessels] and increase in blood flow can take place by a hot-water bath which is followed by relieving of tense muscles,” says Dr Manohar. “Hot water also helps in opening up of the skin pores, but it can worsen the injury by prolonging the inflammation and can also dry the skin.”
Post-workout: cold-water conundrum
A 2019 research paper, ‘Effect of Cold Shower on Recovery From High-Intensity Cycling in the Heat’, concludes that a cold-water shower for 15 minutes could promote a positive thermal comfort sensation immediately at the end of the intervention period, and facilitate heart-rate recovery within the first 30 minutes after showering.
“Cold water has shown favourable cardiovascular benefits along with helping in healing micro injuries which happen during workouts [and] reducing muscle inflammation and post-exercise soreness,” says Dr Manohar. “Apart from this it also stimulates the sympathetic nerves, thus helping in enhancing the mood.”
Cold water tightens the skin, which may help in strengthening the hair follicles, he adds.
Dos and don’ts of post-workout shower
A minimum gap of 20 minutes is always advised between exercise and bath to allow time for the hormones, pulse rate and blood pressure to return to normal.
The rapid changing of water temperature while bathing must be avoided. The shock may lead to fainting. Those with severe health issues should consult a doctor and then opt for the temperature advised.
Lukewarm water best for skin
“From the perspective of the skin after workout or any physical activity, it is best to opt for a lukewarm-water bath,” says Dr Navin Taneja, dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, New Delhi. “[This is] because water which is too hot results in dryness of the skin, and water which is too cold is also not advisable.”
Dr Taneja adds that due to sweat, chances of infection in certain parts of the body are also there. So, using soap with the right pH balance is important. He also advises cotton clothes for exercise as natural fibres minimise chances of skin infection.
- Post-workout or any intense physical activity, a minimum gap of 20 minutes is advised before taking a shower to allow the blood pressure, hormones and pulse rate to return to normal.
- A hot-water bath helps in vasodilation, increasing blood flow to the muscles to relax them. However, it can worsen an injury by prolonging the inflammation.
- A cold-water bath can help in healing micro injuries which take place during exercise, along with enhancing the mood by stimulating the sympathetic nerves.