Sure, I’d heard that cold showers were good for my health, but until embarking on this challenge, the only time I’ve actively volunteered to have a cold shower is when the hot water is off at the gym.
If anything, my showers are too hot — I’m a cold person and like to stand in the shower warming up, even in the summer. Yet with all the supposed benefits, and in the name of journalism, I decided to see what happened when I took a cold shower after every workout for a week.
In addition to improving post-workout recovery, freezing cold showers are said to have a tightening effect on the skin, boost the metabolism, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and leave you with glossier hair. It’s a health trend that seems to be here to stay, but it sounds too good to be true, right?
Unfortunately, a lot of the claims aren’t actually backed up by much scientific evidence, however, there are studies (opens in new tab)that suggest cold water can strengthen your immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells in the body. But what about post workout recovery? To put the theory to the test, I took freezing cold showers after every workout to see the results. Read on to find out what happened.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here’s what happened when I did 30 sit-ups a day for 30 days and when I swapped strength training for Pilates to see if it made me happier.
Also, should you shower in the morning or at night? Here’s what the experts say.
My cold shower experiment
I know what you’re thinking, I know how to take a shower. But a quick browse on the internet alerted me that there are a number of different methods to adding cold showers to your routine.
My method of choice was ‘The James Bond shower’, where the shower is hot for the most part, then freezing for the last few minutes. Yet you can also reverse this, and jump straight into a freezing cold shower, then make it warmer, or even put the cold bit in the middle of your shower, helping you adjust to it.
For the most part, I had a warm shower whereby I washed my hair, face, and body as usual, then I braced myself, and turned the hot water off and the cold water up for the few minutes. I had read that it’s not recommended to go from extremely hot to extremely cold too soon after finishing a workout, as it can leave you lightheaded, so there was a few seconds of lukewarm water in-between.
On day one, I started at 60 seconds, but I managed to build up to three minutes by day six. On day seven, I ran a half marathon, so opted for a Wim Hof style ice bath (with much less ice because I only had one tray in my freezer). I sat in the bath for five minutes of hell, before jumping out, and running a hot bath.
I'd like to say the cold showers got easier as the week went by, but they really didn’t. It was as shocking to the system on day one as it was when I was sat in that bath on day seven. Wim Hof has developed his own yoga-style breathing method to help cope with the cold, and I would recommend taking a few deep breaths under the water. But what about the benefits?
Cold shower benefits: It did help post-workout recovery
While you can’t really draw conclusions from seven days, my legs definitely felt better than they’d normally do the day after a race, and I’m putting that down to the ice bath. I’d run hard and achieved a personal record, and the next day I was able to head into the office and do some treadmill testing for our best treadmills roundup.
According to the experts, cold showers and baths help reduce inflammation and swelling after exercise, meaning your “delayed onset muscle soreness” won’t be as bad. They can also increase blood circulation, as your body is thought to increase blood flow to warm your core and protect your organs. Also, if you switch from hot to cold showers, the change in temperature opens your blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow.
Cold showers: They did give me an energy boost
There’s no doubt about it. That cold blast gave me an energy boost and an odd sense of accomplishment each morning. As a runner, it’s important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I’d say I’m pretty well practiced when it comes to just hanging on when something gets tough.
While it might sound silly, just standing under the cold water for a few minutes each morning gave me a little pinch of that final mile of a marathon feeling.
And it seems I’m not alone in this. According to one study (opens in new tab), that blast of cold water on the skin sends a huge amount of electrical impulses from the peripheral nerve endings to the brain, boosting the mood. As much as I loathed those cold minutes, they definitely helped kickstart my morning.
I didn’t see any difference in my skin and hair
That said, when it comes to tighter skin and glossier hair, I’m sad to say the week of cold showers hasn’t made much of a difference, although I’d argue that a week probably isn’t long enough to see real results anyway. According to science, cold water can boost the skin’s natural moisture barrier after sweating, re-hydrating the skin, and strengthen hair follicles, improving the appearance of the hair.
Although I’ll probably stick to a good moisturizer and a hair mask in future for my beauty regime, a week of cold showers did have it’s bonuses. While I definitely won’t be adding them to my day-to-day routine, I do think cold baths will become part of my post-long-run schedule to help my legs recover faster.