Should You Take a Cold Shower After Workout? Benefits & Drawbacks

You just hit an INSANE leg day, Bulgarian splits and all. Get back home and chug a hefty protein shake (obviously for the gains); it’s time to shower.

A make-or-break moment. What type of shower should you take after your tough workout? Cold after a workout? 

Mmm, maybe a hot one. Or maybe… cold AND hot.

No worries. By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know exactly what type of post-workout shower you should take, why, and when.

Here is what you need to know.

Key Takeaways

  • Cold showers after a workout can reduce muscle inflammation and soreness, but may also dull hypertrophy gains.
  • Hot showers don't offer direct workout recovery benefits like cold showers, but provide relaxation.
  • It's best to wait at least 20 minutes after exercising before taking a cold shower.
  • Alternating hot and cold water (contrast therapy) and timing cold shower duration can help beginners adjust.

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Should You Take Cold Showers After a Workout?

Yes. But also, no. Let me explain.

Studies show that cold showers can significantly reduce inflammation. In turn, reducing muscle soreness (DOMS). Or at least the perception of DOMS. 

What does this mean for you?

Incorporating post-workout cold exposure can be a valuable choice for people who need to recover quickly. This is precisely why athletes partake in cold water therapy (usually cold showers or ice baths). Reducing the strain and soreness of their muscles post-workout is extremely beneficial for their overall performance. 

On the other hand, research on cold showers immediately after a workout suggests that the same benefits cold showers have on muscle recovery can also prevent hypertrophy (aka gains). 

Oh no! Yup.

When you exercise, your body experiences acute inflammation, which is a natural response that helps repair and rebuild damaged muscles after a workout. While inflammation is usually associated with injuries and has a negative connotation, in this case, it plays an essential role in the muscle recovery process. 

So, if you are a pro bodybuilder or are simply trying to gain some muscle mass, cold therapy right after an intense workout is not ideal because it dulls the inflammatory effects of hypertrophy.

No worries, though! You can enjoy the benefits of a cold shower by saving it for a rest day or trying it before your workout. 

The Bottom Line:

If your goal is increased performance/ recovery= Consider making your post-workout shower cold.

If your goal is muscle-building/ hypertrophy= Skip the cold post-workout and opt for a warm shower. Maybe even a lukewarm shower.

Cold Shower Benefits After a Workout:

Shot of a woman from behind. Inside cold shower while washing her hair

After your workout, cold showers can provide a ton of benefits. The cool thing is that most benefits aren’t exclusive to post-exercise routines.

Let me make one thing clear before we dive in.

There are many more benefits to cold therapy than what I’m about to cover, but these are the ones directly related to post-workout routines.

1. Boosts mood

Believe it or not, exposure to a few invigorating seconds of cold water creates dopamine release (feel-good hormones).

Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.  shares, “Big surges in dopamine that are long-lasting, that you can induce with deliberate cold exposure, are huge elevators for mood and alertness and well-being throughout the day,” he says.

Huberman states that even brief periods of intentional exposure to cold temperatures can cause a sustained rise in dopamine. Research has even found that cold water immersion can at (60°F)  help with muscle recovery and inflammation.

So if you love the feeling you get after a good laugh, eating your favorite food, or crushing an intense workout, consider hopping into a cold shower.

Research suggest that cold exposure can also make your body produce more cortisol, a hormone that helps you stay alert. We usually associate cortisol with being unhealthy. In reality, cortisol is essential and can provide many health benefits in the right amounts! This happens because cold showers activate the part of your nervous system that makes your body ready to react quickly (fight or flight).

Fight or flight reaction can increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and boost cortisol levels. All of these changes may help you feel more awake and focused.

2. Once again, reduced muscle soreness.

A cold shower after your workout offers multiple benefits. It not only helps remove toxins from your muscles but can also help reduce or dull muscle soreness. A recent review published in 2023 found that immersing yourself in cold water after a workout can effectively decrease the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue immediately.

Cold showers induce vasoconstriction, which aids in eliminating lactic acid from the body. This reduction in lactic acid can alleviate muscle discomfort and soreness.

Basically, if you want to avoid that “My everything hurts” feeling the day after a workout, cold water therapy may help!

Woman in workout clothes deadlifting a barbell

3. Speeds up workout recovery

When combined with a proper cooldown, a study discovered that cold water therapy can accelerate the recovery process.

How does it work? When cold water touches your skin, it causes the blood vessels near the surface of your body to narrow, a process known as vasoconstriction.

So not only does it help with the feeling of soreness, but the actual recovery of your muscles as well.

Shower vs Hot Shower: Comparison and Breakdown

Hot or cold shower after exercise? The moment of truth.

When it comes to choosing between a hot shower and a cold shower after exercise, it’s essential for you to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Hot shower:

Pros: 

  • Taking a hot shower can provide a sense of relaxation, allowing your muscles to unwind. 
  • Can clear skin blemishes 
  • Clear sinuses and mucus  
  • Good self-care method

 

Cons:

  • Dryness: Hot showers can dry the skin and strip it of its natural oils.
  • Skin irritation: Prolonged exposure to hot water can cause skin redness, itching, and irritation, especially for those with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
  • Doesn’t provide many post-workout benefits

Cold shower:

Pros:

  • Helps lower your body temperature, engage the nervous system, and aid in recovery. 
  • Unlike hot water, which causes blood vessels to dilate, cold water has the opposite effect and can help constrict blood vessels (Promote better circulation).
  • Improve muscle recovery.
  • Increase metabolism temporarily.
  • Strengthen the immune system.
  • Increase resilience.
  • Boost mood.
  • Improve lymphatic function.
  • Aid in better sleep.
  • Reduce depressive symptoms
  • Improve skin inflammation 

 

Cons:

  • Prevent muscle growth: Cold showers right after a workout may dull the effects of hypertrophy. 
  • Reduced relaxation: Unlike hot showers that promote relaxation and stress relief, cold showers can have an invigorating effect that may not be suitable for everyone.
Woman with hair bun laying inside a hot water bath tub

So, a hot shower may feel soothing at the moment but doesn’t provide any post-workout benefits. So, cold showers are usually the way to go when it comes to maximizing your workout recovery.

That doesn’t mean hot showers don’t have any place in our routine or you have to take a cold shower for the rest of your life. Although they may not provide as many health benefits, it’s all about balance.

3 Tips: Cold Shower after Workout for Beginners

1. Contrast therapy:

When you first start, try alternating between hot and cold water. Be sure, to Begin with Hot water and end with cold.

2. Have a timer:

Time your intervals and start small. Don’t be hard on yourself! Just slowly progress with colder temperatures and longer intervals, session by session.

3. Have your “why” list:

We usually stay consistent and committed when we have a strong why behind something. So ask yourself, “Why do I want to start to take cold showers?”

Who Should Not Take a Cold Shower After Working Out?

While cold showers right after a workout can be invigorating for many, it’s important to note that certain individuals should exercise caution or avoid them altogether.

  • Pregnant women.
  • Individuals with hypertension or respiratory issues.
  • People with extremely low body weight.
  • Bodybuilders/ those focused on hypertrophy training.
  • Those with nerve disorders.

It’s always advisable to prioritize safety and consult with a healthcare professional before participating in cold showers, ensuring that the water temperature is not cold enough to pose any risks to your specific health needs.

Can a cold shower help with post-workout inflammation?

Yes, cold showers have been suggested as a recovery boost due to the theory of vasoconstriction. This occurs when cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, which lowers blood flow to the skin and extremities.

The idea is that this restricted blood flow can limit inflammation and muscle swelling after a workout, potentially leading to reduced soreness. However, research is still ongoing. 

The complex interaction between the sympathetic nervous and immune systems makes it a debate between professionals. While cold showers may offer some benefits, the direct impact on inflammation remains up in the air.

What is the advantage of an ice bath compared to a cold shower?

 

According to Huberman Lab, ice baths or immersion are considered the optimal choice for recovery. However, if the idea of dropping 15k on an ice bath doesn’t excite you, there are multiple ways you can start cold therapy at home, cold showers included.

Your shower needs to reach a low enough temperature, which may be hard during certain seasons and locations.

In my opinion, cold showers are a good place to start before making a couple-grand investment.

Long Story Short: My Personal Experience

I have used cold water showers and ice baths myself. Although I was initially uncomfortably cold, I started noticing the benefits of cold showers in several ways. In my mood, mental resilience, and i was able to recover faster from workouts. 

I felt significantly less sore on my rest days with foam rolling and cold showers. 

No soreness while sitting down, lifting my arms up, or going to the bathroom (you know exactly what I mean).

Meme with man in center saying "One does not simply sit on the toilet after leg day"

Long story short, cold showers can provide great benefits and be a good tool when used correctly. 

At the right time, for the right duration, depending on your goals.

Ready to hop in?

Cold Shower After a Workout: FAQ

Are there any risks in taking a cold shower?

For most, cold showers don’t pose any risks. Cold plunges are more likely to pose a risk, especially in open water. The temperature gets lower  and the whole body is submerged. 

Cold showers may pose a risk to pregnant women, people with cardiovascular or respiratory issues, high blood pressure, and disorders related to the nervous system.

Will a cold shower hinder muscle recovery?

No, a cold shower after workout doesn’t hinder muscle recovery. It actually promotes muscle recovery by reducing inflammation and improving blood flow to the muscles.

The same effects that can reduce muscle soreness may also hinder your muscle-building abilities if performed immediately after a workout.

Can taking a warm shower after a workout benefit muscle growth?

No. While warm showers can help relax muscles, they do not directly impact muscle growth. Factors like proper nutrition and exercise play a more significant role in muscle growth.

In fact, extremely hot showers can cause dizziness, dehydration, and impact your blood pressure.

When is the best time to take a cold shower after a workout?

It is generally recommended to wait at least 20 minutes after a workout before jumping in a cold shower or cold plunge

Karly Mendez, an exercise physiology expert and human performance specialist at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute in Houston, Texas, suggests that it might be ideal to wait for a minimum of twenty minutes after exercising before opting for a cold shower. She told Nike:

“This is because, post-workout, your body needs time to cool down, specifically regarding normalizing your heart rate and body temperature. You want your body to return to a baseline temperature and your heart “ate to begin to recover.”

Although you may want to rush in and “get it over with,” try to hold it off for at least 20 minutes. Also important to note that the recovery benefits may start to dull two hours after their workout.

Are cold showers good for body temperature regulation?

Yes, showers can help regulate body temperature. They can cool you down after a tough workout or in hot conditions, and they can also stimulate internal heat production in cold weather.

What? It can make you warm.

Taking a cold shower may initially make us feel cooler, but it actually causes our core temperature to rise due to reduced heat loss from the body without proper blood flow to the skin.

After a few minutes, we may start feeling hot again. On the other hand, a warm sensation on the skin elevates blood flow to the skin, helping regulate body temperature.

That is precisely why when you get into a freezing pool, it doesn’t feel cold at all after a few minutes because you “Got used to it.”

Can cold showers increase metabolism?

Cold water can activate thermogenesis. This activation increases energy expenditure by around 31%, potentially aiding weight management and supporting metabolic function.

This is all because your body is trying to maintain homeostasis and regulate your temperature. However, the effect is insignificant enough to skip the gym daily and hit Pizza Hut.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and the information provided in this communication should not be considered medical advice or suggestions. The content shared is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Always talk with a healthcare professional prior to making any decisions regarding your health or medical condition. Any actions taken based on the information presented are at your own risk.

About the Author, Sophia Victoria
About the Author, Sophia Victoria

Sophi is a health, wellness, and lifestyle blogger who uses, research, and tests products and theories to help others improve their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. With her own eating disorder journey, regulating her hormones, and working with 10+ nutritionists, she deeply understands the health and wellness. Sophi is also well-knowledged in self-development and committed to sharing her knowledge, experience, and expertise with her readers.

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