You turn the knob and water starts to spray and spew. You adjust the handle to just the right spot, as you have done a thousand times before. You reach your hand in to make sure the water is just the right temperature before you decide to finally get in.
The rest is a blur.
Honestly, if I were to ask you, “How was your shower last Tuesday?”. You would most likely give me a blank stare and respond with, “I don’t know, good…I guess”.
If every small piece of your day is mundane and unforgettable, what do you think the big picture will look like?
Let’s shake things up!
Yea, it’s just a shower. But what if I told you we could turn your daily shower into better-human practice? What if we take a simple mundane daily task and turn it into a grit-building activity capable of allowing you to train more, recover faster, burn fat, increase energy and imrove hormones?
You can…Let’s talk showers.
Contrast showers are no joke.
When Art (my husband) first started talking to me about them, I thought he was out of his mind. Literally. But, over time I have learned how effective they are for recovery and feeling better.
It’s simple. It’s effective. And it doesn’t take any extra time out of your day to get it done; A.K.A efficient. So the question is not WHY a contrast shower, but rather WHY NOT?
Anyone who trains can benefit from a contrast shower. The tougher the training, the more beneficial the shower will be.
Like I said, the concept is simple. The “contrast” is from hot to cold. This is nothing new, there is research that claims the Romans were in on this little secret, waaay back in the day. But they didn’t have the easy access to showers like we do now.
The idea is you want to get the blood flowing with warm water since the warm temperatures will open the blood vessels and flush the body with blood. Then switch to cold which will drive the blood inward to warm and protect the internal organs from the cold; then we go back to warm to get the blood going again, etc.
This practice is believed to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) by reducing the amount of lactate in the blood and inflammation. It goes beyond training benefits. These better-human, I mean, contrast showers are also cable of detoxing the body and making your organs work better due to the blood that gets forced into them from the cold. Ultimately, this contraction and dilation will help the body get rid of toxins too.
Now, your question may be, how do I take a contrast shower?
The answer is, what can you handle?
The principle you want to keep in mind is 3-to-1, or you want the hot water to be 3 times longer than the cold water. Which means you start with what you can handle and what you have time for.
That could be 3 minutes of a hot shower followed by 1 minute of cold water, or 6 minutes of hot followed by 2 minutes of cold or even 90 seconds of hot followed by 30 seconds of cold, etc.
But you don’t just do it once, you need to do 3-4 cycles of this. I made a quick little image you can use.
And YES, YES and YES you END ON COLD WATER!
A contrast shower is great immediately following a training session, the next day or just in the morning when you wake up. Trust me on this one!
But what about just straight-up cold showers?
Being able to recover like a superhuman is great, but what else can cold showers do? Short answer…A LOT!
Cold showers alone are no joke either, and they are not meant to be torture. On top of bringing you back in the moment, in a busy world. Cold showers have some real physiological and psychological benefits, such as:
Cold showers can do a lot, but I want to specifically talk about the last bullet there, or how a cold shower can help burn fat.
Oxymoron, right? The cold burns…
Anyway, it is actually pretty cool how this works.
You have two types of fat in your body; white fat and brown fat. The white fat, or adipose, is what you get from eating too many potato chips. Brown fat, the good guy, is found around your collar bones, sternum, neck, and upper back. Brown fat generates heat by burning white fat, and brown fat helps your body stay warm. So by getting cold in the shower, your body starts to burn fat with fat, or brown fat starts to burn white fat.
In fact, some studies say that exposure to cold ALONE could help you drop almost 10 lbs of fat in a year! Keep in mind we aren’t talking diet and exercise…we are talking just cold exposure.
But is it worth it? I mean it’s FREAKING COLD!
The only thing we haven’t talked about is the fact that cold showers are awful! I completely agree with you on this one. Stepping into a freezing cold shower, especially in the winter months is not very appealing… and the case of goose bumps requires you to have to shave more – but it is worth it!
I also am not in love with the taste of raw broccoli, how badly my muscles burn when I am doing more reps than my brain finds acceptable or how hypoxic and unable to breathe I become when I am really pushing my conditioning to the limit…
But it isn’t about taking the easy route, being average or avoiding discomfort. It is better to learn how to push yourself, how to suffer and how to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
It’s not that bad.
At the end of the day, there is a ton of research telling us that cold showers make us better humans, but that daily hot shower is only good if you are sick or want to take a nap. Why not make your shower more productive?
So what kind of shower will you be taking?
Want more details on any of this? Here are my sources:
The effect of contrast water therapy on symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness, Brown Fat: Don’t Try to Burn it, Brown adipose tissue oxidative metabolism contributes to energy expenditure during acute cold exposure in humans, Recruitment of brown adipose tissue as a therapy for obesity-associated diseases,