Firstly, there is no doubt that extreme temperatures have a powerful effect on your circulatory system, and hot and cold elements do different things to your body. These are called vasodilation and vasoconstriction.
A lot of fitness gurus and health professionals argue in favour of an ice bath or shower after a hard workout. For most, the prospect of plunging into a bracing shower will be less than appealing unless you are still hot and sweaty, but the argument for shocking the body in this way is that it cools you down rapidly and evenly. This also has the effect of directing blood flow rapidly to your vital organs and allowing the muscles space to release lactic acid build-up and to repair themselves. This is the vasoconstriction element – the icy water forces the blood vessels to narrow and the damaged tissue becomes cold. This means that the cold temperature can also mitigate swelling and bruising from fluid and waste build-ups – a natural output of a hard workout.
Of course, if you don’t fancy fully submerging yourself in a tub of ice-cubes, a local ice pack on any sore areas will also have a beneficial effect, but be mindful that cold water submersion is believed to help both circulation and immunity. Also, it is hugely energising – at least when you get past the initial horror of being incredibly cold.
If you want to go down the cold-shower route, seek medical advice if you have high blood pressure or a known heart problem. Extreme temperatures can lead to an elevated heart rate, although this isn’t typically a problem in otherwise healthy people.
If the prospect of leaping into a freezing shower simply seems to dire to contemplate, then you’ll want to focus on arguments from other fitness experts who say that lukewarm water at around room temperature is ideal after a workout, allowing your body temperature to recover more slowly without any extremes. Once you are in the shower and you are cooling off, you can start to dial the temperature gauge down to achieve similar benefits.
However, there are cases when a hot shower simply does make sense. It encourages the process of vasodilation, stimulating the blood flow to the muscles and the skin, which also disperses lactic acid and can help you to avoid muscle aches. Remember that if you have an injury, though, heat is a natural pain reliever, but it is ice that will actually speed the healing process and help you recover faster.
The arguments for shower temperatures are varied, so you might want to try different approaches and find what works for you. Even though the health benefits of cold water seem to stack up more powerfully, there is no doubt that a warm shower feels wonderful and hugely relaxing.