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A hand checking the temperature of a shower after a workout.

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Should You Take a Hot or Cold Shower After a Workout?

This is why your post-exercise shower temperature doesn’t matter too much.

By Michele RossMarch 4, 2024

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Whether you’re a casual exerciser or a seasoned athlete, chances are you wouldn’t mind adopting a simple hack or two to help your body recover faster. Some people particularly swear by taking a hot or cold shower after a workout—or even alternating between the two extremes—to try to expedite the recovery process. 

But does the temperature of your shower really make that much of a difference for your post-exercise rest and recuperation? We spoke with experts and dug into the latest research to learn more.

Does It Matter Whether You Take a Hot or Cold Shower After a Workout?

There’s no direct proof indicating that hot or cold showers will make or break your post-workout recovery, says Corey Simon, PhD, an associate professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Duke University, a senior fellow in the Duke Aging Center, and a physical therapist. 

In many cases, the perks are anecdotal and mainly proliferate on social media rather than peer-reviewed journals. “I see multiple posts per week on cold showers and hot-to-cold contrast showers, touting therapeutic effects that include faster workout recovery, better skin, etc.,” Simon says. However, he’s yet to see these claims backed by scientific evidence.

In case you’ve heard otherwise—with sources claiming that research does, in fact, support the notion that shower temperature affects post-workout recovery—it’s worth taking a closer look at the quality of the referenced studies. They may be decades old or include small sample sizes, and they may not be highly controlled or specific to exercise, Simon explains. “This means that the findings may be a product of a number of factors aside from the intervention itself,” he says.

For instance, Simon often sees one 2016 study cited in which participants who took hot-to-cold contrast showers for 30, 60, or 90 seconds daily for 30 days noted fewer self-reported sick days at work compared to a control group. However, there are a few gaps in this study:

  • Only the sick days from work were logged—not actual days of illness.

  • The sample groups weren’t blinded, so a placebo effect could have played a role.

  • Even if the benefits of hot-to-cold contrast showers were legitimate for staving off illness, the findings don’t correspond to post-workout recovery.

Plus, most of the research on hot or cold therapy as it relates to fitness focuses on cold water immersions, cryotherapy, saunas, and other environments that don’t mimic the exact conditions of a casual shower after exercising. While some of these recovery methods may have their merits, the common denominator of temperature doesn’t mean that a hot or cold shower after a workout will inevitably offer the same recovery perks.

So why isn’t shower temperature all that powerful of a muscle recovery tool? “The tissue most affected by thermal interventions is the skin, and skin temperature is poorly correlated with muscle temperature,” Simon explains. “Add adipose tissue (fat) and the correlation is even worse.” In other words, changing the temperature of your skin with a hot or cold shower after a workout won’t necessarily translate to temperature changes in your muscles—meaning it probably won’t have a big impact on post-exercise recovery. (Cold water immersion, on the other hand, may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, aka DOMS, by way of temporarily restricting blood flow, allowing oxygenated blood to circulate after exposure.)

All that said, while your muscle recovery likely won’t be impacted by a cold or hot shower after a workout, your post-exercise shower temperature can offer other potential wellness benefits. 

The Benefits of Taking a Hot Shower After a Workout

Some studies suggest exercise-related benefits of hot water immersion via baths, from increased blood flow to improved endurance while training in the heat. However, it’s worth reiterating that this doesn’t mean that hot showers will yield the same results.

Taking a hot shower after working out might not directly expedite recovery—but it can potentially complement your exercise regimen and overall well-being. Here are a couple of potential benefits of the practice:

Less Stress

A hot shower won’t only help you wash away your sweat and grime, but it can also help lower your stress levels. “Those who have taken a warm shower after stressful days or high-impact workouts can attest to its calming effects,” Simon says. “The negative impact of stress on health is well established, as are the positive health benefits from its removal.”

Better Sleep

Getting enough high-quality shuteye is crucial, day in and day out. Per a 2019 entry in Sleep Medicine Reviews, even a 10-minute hot shower, bath, or foot bath taken an hour or two before bedtime can improve sleep. Better sleep is only one component of post-workout recovery, but a crucial one nonetheless.

The Benefits of Taking a Cold Shower After a Workout

Showers aside, there’s more evidence on the benefits of thermal interventions such as cold water immersion and whole- or partial-body cryo-stimulation, particularly for improving muscle soreness, Simon explains. Still, cold showers may stand to benefit some people after exercise, though more robust evidence is needed. 

With that in mind, here are a couple of possible benefits of taking a cold shower after a workout:

Less Stress

Similar to hot showers, cold showers may also reduce stress levels—so long as it’s paired with breathwork. Per a 2022 randomized trial published in the journal Current Psychology, participants who paired pranayama-style breathing exercises with a 15- to 60-second cold shower daily over 14 days reported lower stress levels compared to a control group. “However, participants performing breathing only, or cold shower only, also showed improved stress levels; and the breathing-only group had larger effects than the cold-shower-only group,” Simon explains.

In short, a cold shower might help you feel less stressed out—but mindfulness practices may be even more effective.

Feel-Good Chemical Release

Braving colder temps will test your limits and push you out of your comfort zone. Overcoming the discomfort can garner a sense of accomplishment, potentially eliciting a placebo effect that can make you feel powerful. Simon is careful to note that this placebo effect isn’t “nothing” and can actually have therapeutic effects: Even expecting an intervention to work can influence the release of feel-good chemicals in your body, he says.

How to Decide Between a Hot or Cold Shower After a Workout

More high-quality studies are needed to determine if taking a cold or hot shower (or switching between the two) after a workout can actually promote healing and recovery. With that in mind, you can simply stick to whichever shower temperature you prefer most. 

Feeling adventurous? You can test the waters (literally) with cold showers to see if a placebo effect takes hold, or try out more vetted types of cold exposure therapy such as cold plunging. “As mentioned, cold water immersion or body cryo-stimulation show promise for reducing muscle soreness,” Simon reiterates. However, he adds that more high-quality research is needed to gauge safety and efficacy for people of different ages, health statuses, levels of physical fitness, and the like. (At the same time, you’ll want to avoid going overboard, as excessive cold exposure may run counter to your goals. For instance, “there is a growing sentiment among researchers that using cold interventions for too long or too frequently can actually delay healing,” Simon says.)

If recovery is your main goal, experts recommend prioritizing other aspects of your regimen besides your post-exercise shower temperature. “My advice would be to worry about things such as following a proper training program, eating well, and resting, rather than the temperature of your shower,” says Jasmine Marcus, a physical therapist based in Ithaca, New York. To alleviate sore muscles after a workout, you can also benefit from the likes of cooldown exercises, foam rolling, and massage. Staying hydrated and incorporating rest days is crucial, too. 

The Takeaway

Whether you prefer a hot or cold shower after a workout, the water temperature probably won’t impact your exercise recovery timeline much. While other thermal interventions such as cold plunging or cryotherapy have been shown to improve muscle recovery, your shower temperature probably won’t have a big impact. That said, cold or hot showers after a workout may offer other potential wellness benefits, such as less stress or better Zzzs. But if muscle recovery is your top priority, experts advise focusing on other recovery best practices, such as making time for rest, staying hydrated, fueling your body with healthy foods, and following an appropriate training program.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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