Hydrotherapy 101

waterSo I have recently started a new workout routine that involves higher training volumes than what I am normally accustomed to.  Regardless of how well I eat and how much I foam roll, I’m going to be sore.  There’s no getting around it.  What’s a guy to do?  In short, take a shower.

But not just any shower.

You need to take a cold shower.

As cold as you can stand it.


Cold showers have many benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.  It goes beyond being an ice pack remedy for your entire body.

It relieves inflammation and soreness

Athletes taking ice baths has been around for years because it works!  Submerging yourself in cold water reduces the inflammation in your muscles and increases recovery time.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to be ICE cold in order to receive the benefits.  Simply hop in the shower and put it on it’s lowest setting.

It strengthens your immune response (maybe?)

There’s some debate as to whether cold showers make you less susceptible to contracting a disease like the cold or flu.  My personal opinion is taking a cold shower produces an effect in your body that mimics a workout.  Think for a minute about how you would react when you jump into some cold water.  You tense up and maybe even start shivering.  Your heart rate increases.  You breathing becomes more shallow.  You’re providing a stressor (in this case, cold water) to your system that your body then has to cope with.  The end result is your body is now more acclimated to colder conditions and won’t need to work as hard during the winter season to maintain homeostasis.

It boosts testosterone

No one seems to have a good reason why cold showers increase testosterone, but the general consensus is that they do provide a mild boost.  Probably because of the same reason it increases your immune response.  It’s a stressor to your nervous system and also causes a strong physical response.  Exercise boosts testosterone for much of the same reasons.  Just don’t expect to wake up one day looking like Ronnie Coleman.  You do however, get extra points for jumping into an ice cold shower and letting out your loudest, angriest war cry.

It’s invigorating

For me, this is actually a bit of a problem since I take my showers at night.  By the time I hop out of the shower I am wide awake and ready to go….to bed.  If you take your showers in the morning, you’re in for a treat.  Taking a cold shower is better than chugging down a large pot of coffee for getting your rear in gear for the day.

It build mental toughness

Nothing builds discipline like voluntarily subjecting yourself to uncomfortable conditions.  Discipline is built by doing things that are unpleasant.  The colder your shower, the stronger your will.

Tips for taking a cold shower

Unfortunately, there aren’t many tricks for making it easier.  It’s like jumping into a cold swimming pool.  You just gotta suck it up and do it.  As you’re easing into the routine, you can start with the water on lukewarm so it isn’t such a shock to the system and gradually decrease the hot water.

Another trick is start taking cold showers in the summertime.  This helps for two reasons.  One, you won’t mind the cold water as much.  Two, the cold water coming in from the pipes won’t be chilled even further by the cold winter air.  Taking cold showers in the winter is a totally different animal (one that I look forward to testing out this winter).

You can also take your cold shower right after a workout.  You’ll actually look forward to it.

Contrast showers

If you are familiar with my technique for relieving sprains, bruises, and other minor injuries, you’ll understand why this works.  Contrast showers provide the benefits of a cold shower with the relaxing properties of a hot one.  Simply turn the shower on hot for 3 minutes and soak.  After 3 minutes are up, turn it to cold for a minute.  Alternate back and forth for 15-20 minutes (or as long as you can stand it).  The trick is to start off with a relatively minor temperature change (maybe 10-15 degrees) and increase the amount the water temperature fluctuates with each cycle so by the end the water is as cold/hot as you can stand it.

Hot bath/cold shower

This is a variation of the contrast shower.  This method is great if you are sore all over from a hard workout because items can be added to the bath portion.  Adding Epsom salt,for example, will decrease soreness.  Wal-Mart actually has a Epsom salt mixture that contains menthol and some other ingredients that help with muscle soreness.

mineral salt soak

I have used it a couple times after an especially brutal day and have been pretty pleased with the results.  After soaking for a bit in the hot bath, turn the cold shower on and rinse off.  Easy as that.

Cold showers are not for the faint of heart.  The benefits are best realized over time.  Don’t expect taking a couple of cold showers a month to do much of anything.  They need to be taken daily and they need to be COLD.

Let’s see a show of hands of those who take cold showers.  Have you seen any benefits that I missed?  Leave your comments below.

Relevant Links

30 Days of Discipline

Mark’s Daily Apple – Cold Water Therapy

Kratosguide – The Benefits of Cold Showers

EliteFTS – 9 Restoration Tips That Will Make You Stronger

The Mind of Steel – The Cold Shower Approach to Developing Mental Toughness


2 thoughts on “Hydrotherapy 101

  1. I’m experimenting with my cold shower regimen.

    Part of my Spartan lifestyle is that I only allow myself 4 minutes of hot water a day. NOT because I am some sort of environmentalist whack job, but precisely because my conservative views WILL benefit the environment.

    4 minutes of hot water saves $$ because it saves energy. Heating water is the second most expensive energy cost in a home. First? Heating and cooling air.

    Forgive me….regimen.

    I get home, strength train for 30 minutes, take a cold bath for 10 minutes, then a hot shower for 4 minutes, and finish with a cold shower for 3-4 minutes.

    So I warm up the muscles, cool them down for recovery, take a hot shower to open the skin pores and get clean, then finish with cold water for blood flow as well as benefits to my hair and skin.

    In the morning I do my 30DoD routine and take a cold shower just to rinse off the sweat and get my mind as alert as my body. And also the blood flow thing….it’s good.

    This may change with more information/experience. It helps with my thick blood.


    • Sounds like a pretty good regimen to me. Contrast showers are arguably superior to cold showers for recovery. I personally have come to enjoy cold showers mainly because I hate the heat of summer so cold showers are a nice reprieve. Cold showers in the winter will be interesting since the water will be colder.
      Saving money is a definite side perk. Also shaved with cold water last night. Razor tugged at the hairs a bit more but no irritation. Worth looking into.

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