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Contrast Shower Benefits & How to Do Contrast Hydrotherapy

benefits of contrast showers
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Taking a contrast shower (otherwise known as a form of contrast hydrotherapy) might not be the most enjoyable form of muscle recovery, but it’s also not the worst. Regardless, there are many contrast shower benefits that can help athletes and non-athletes feel better each day.

A contrast shower is a form of hydrotherapy during which the flow of the shower water is cycled between hot water and cold water- usually three to five times.

As a professional basketball player, muscle recovery is an essential part of performing well and remaining healthy. Although you might feel uncomfortable with the contrasting temperatures of contrast hydrotherapy, there is an extensive list of contrast shower benefits that have been proven through science which you don’t want to miss out on.

Contrast showers are one of the most effective forms of muscle recovery because you can do it at home every single day. Most athletes shower multiple times per day, and nearly everyone can spend a few extra minutes in their shower to do additional hot-cold therapy.

Keep reading below to learn more about contrast shower benefits and why you should utilize contrast hydrotherapy!

What is a Contrast Shower?

what is contrast hydrotherapy

A sports massage from a suitably trained professional can assist with the recovery process in a similar fashion to a contrast shower, but not all of us have the option/resources to receive a massage on a daily basis.

To self manage the recovery process, a contrast shower could be the key to filling your daily recovery needs!

Contrast showers do not take long, and you can easily implement this form of hydrotherapy into your routine by adding a few extra minutes to your showers.

Why Do You Need Contrasting Temperatures Instead of Only Hot or Cold?

contrast shower health benefits

Hot water opens the blood vessels, which means that it increases blood flow. On the other side, cold water narrows the blood vessels and kicks out toxins. Switching from warm to cold water makes it possible for blood vessels to work properly, and regulate themselves.

But, why not only hot or cold water?

The answer is simple.

Hot water can cause swelling, and enhance inflammation.

On its own, hot water following training will not do much for your recovery. In fact, it can make your recovery even slightly slower in some ways if you are not balancing it out with a sudden change in temperature. The swelling and inflammation that can be caused by hot water are two of the side effects you are trying to get rid of!

Cold water can relieve pain for a short amount of time, but it can also cause extreme stiffness. Your muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments will become overly stiff from too much cold-water exposure, making your long term recovery slower and slower over time.

Contrast shower benefits combine the benefits of both sides of hydrotherapy, forming a recovery team that will have you feeling great and ready to go for your next training session!

Benefits of Contrast Showers

Contrast shower benefits include:

  • Boost Your Immune and Circulatory Systems
  • Recovering and Restoring the Body to a Balanced and Optimal State
  • Reducing Muscle Soreness and Strains
  • Cleaning Lactic Acid From the Muscles
  • Refreshing the Skin

When our body undergoes this therapy, it helps to strengthen and normalize internal body systems such as our nervous, circulatory, and immune systems.

Check out these specific benefits of contrast hydrotherapy that will make you want to take a contrast shower as soon as possible!

Contrast Hydrotherapy Helps You Manage Intense Exercise

According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,

“Overall perceptions of recovery were superior after contrast water therapy and contrast showers compared with passive recovery. The findings indicate contrast water therapy and contrast showers did not accelerate physical recovery in elite netballers after a netball specific circuit; however, the psychological benefit from both interventions should be considered when determining the suitability of these recovery interventions.”

Although this particular study did not indicate the physical benefits of contrast showers, it clearly demonstrated the psychological benefits.

Contrast Showers and Your Blood

health benefits of contrast hydrotherapy

With a contrast shower, there is a natural increase in blood circulation that helps our body in the detox process by increasing the excretion of metabolic and cellular waste from the body.

As stated in a research study published in the Journal of Lymphoedema,

“Contrast hydrotherapy involves the immersion or dousing of a limb in alternating hot and cold water. This ‘tweaks’ the peripheral autonomic nervous system, altering vascular tone and flow and improving nitric oxide production and vessel health. It has been shown to improve both short and long-term distal blood flow and claudication in patients with significant peripheral arterial disease, as the vascular and lymphatic system share many similarities with regards their genesis, vascular biology, and autonomic innervation.

Contrast shower benefits also include helping to transport the nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues, which is a generic benefit of increasing circulation at any given time. In addition to this, contrast showers have shown to increase the number of white blood cells in your body.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Relief

One of the main reasons contrast hydrotherapy showers are often used by athletes and bodybuilders after a workout or day of training because contrast showers are effective at relieving delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), or the general muscle aches which occur after training.

This pain relief property is most likely due to its ability to decrease the concentration of lactic acid build up in the body.

Along with this, contrast showers are equally effective at flushing your blood vessels and reducing joint and muscle inflammation- another cause of DOMS and result of physical exercise.

Lastly, contrast showers are useful for anyone looking to improve their physique or build an aesthetic body because they help your muscles recover and grow after training sessions.

Detoxing Your Organs

One of the most overlooked benefits of contrast showers is that they are incredibly refreshing for your skin, which is the biggest organ of the body and is tasked with carrying away toxins that are excreted while sweating and perspiring.

A contrast shower can be effective at detoxifying both the internal of the body (organs) and the external (skin). The cycles of dilation and constriction of the blood vessels through contrast showering can force the release of toxins built up in your blood, promoting this response.

The exposure to a sudden burst of cold during contrast showering is most likely the reason for the increased function of your internal organs, following contrast showering treatment. The contrast showering technique also can play a useful role in regulating your nervous system.

Boosting the Immune System

Lastly, the dramatic temperature changes can have an excellent effect on boosting your immune system!  Your body will become accustomed to irregular temperatures, thus teaching it how to protect you more efficiently.

How to Take a Contrast Shower Properly?

Typically, during this alternating hot-cold temperature shower, a cycle begins by running hot water over the body for a period of about three minutes. The temperature is then dramatically lowered for one minute, and then the temperature is increased again to complete the cycle.

The hot water, during a contrast shower cycle, relaxes and opens the blood vessels, while the cold water diverts the blood to internal organs.

Contrast showers are used to mitigate the impact of strenuous workouts on the body, detoxify, and enhance the function of internal organs. This form of hydrotherapy is not recommended for pregnant women or people suffering from asthma or heart disease.

However, I suffer from chronic and severe asthma, and I use contrast showers often, and I haven’t had any issues yet. If you’re nervous, talking to a doctor is always a great idea!

An individual who is using contrast hydrotherapy will gradually be able to tolerate more substantial differences in temperature, allowing them to receive even more benefits! If you ever begin to feel dizzy or nauseous while doing contrast hydrotherapy, stop immediately!

Concluding Thoughts – Contrast Shower Benefits

I have used contrast showers often in my career, and at certain points, I will do them daily.  For me, the simplest option is to do 3 minutes of warm water and then 2 minutes of cold water, for about 2-3 sets total.

I attempt to do this following my last training session of the day, at least three times per week.

It is simple enough to do contrast showers in my shower, and it only takes a little bit of mental toughness!

If you want to amplify the benefits of your contrast shower, even more, you can try adding a few drops of essential oils to your shower!  Essential oils have been used for years as a natural way to improve overall health.

This is a quick tip for anyone who would like to make their recovery treatments even more useful.

For any athlete who is feeling as if their recovery could be enhanced further than just proper nutrition and uninterrupted sleep every night, contrast showers can provide a fantastic addition to your recovery process!


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Adam Kemp
Hello! My name is Adam Kemp. I am a professional basketball player and an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer. In 2014 I graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in Communications, and for the last seven years, I have played professional basketball in Europe. I am also an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, and I am currently completing my Masters of Science in Nutrition Education at American University. The health and fitness tips you can find throughout the articles I have written include information I have learned throughout my basketball career, academic studies, and my own personal research. If you would like to learn more about my life, please take a moment to follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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