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If you ever took a cold shower you know it can be equal parts exhilarating and cruel. In this video, I’m going to discuss the benefits of showering with cold water when it comes to building muscle and recovering from your workouts. There is just as much science and research that supports that idea of taking cold showers after workouts as there is to avoid them all together if building muscle is your goal.
First, it helps to discuss the available science on the topic of cold showers and working out. Most of the studies that have been done on this subject have had their participants immerse themselves in ice baths rather than apply the cold water in a shower. There is a big difference in the effect this has on lowering core body temperature. First it can be done to a greater degree through submersion and second, it can be done at a faster rate.
That said, in many of these studies they have found that the use of cold water submersion following a hard workout can be detrimental to muscle growth. The reason for this is due to the blunting of the inflammatory processes and growth mediators that are spawned from the reactive inflammatory signaling that happens following a hard workout. When you train, your muscles react in a way that your body perceives as inflammation. This is not the typical form of inflammation that you would associate with an injury or even an abrasion to the skin.
That said, the cell mediators that initiate the healing process that allow the muscles to grow back bigger and stronger are interrupted and never allowed to fully be expressed. This has been theorized by researchers to limit the amount of muscular hypertrophy that you can see if you make regular application of cold water a habit following your workout.
That said, as with everything else that occurs in and out of the gym, the timing and specific application matters.
What about cold showers? Do they have the same negative effect? If they are not done immediately following training do they have the same negative gains killing effect as shown in the studies?
The answer is no.
In fact, taking a cold shower at a time that isn’t immediately following your workout can have a muscle growth inducing effect. The exact opposite response as was experienced with the submersion after working out. This is due to an important hormonal response that occurs in some people, particularly those that have high baseline levels of cortisol.
When you are a natural lifter, the number one thing you can do to increase muscle growth is prioritize your recovery. This comes in the form of improved nutrition, better sleep, following a proper training split and even the right form of supplementation. Having high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, is something that you may not even be aware of unless you have bloodwork that shows the issue.
The use of cold showers at a time not immediately following your workouts has been shown in a 2021 study to significantly blunt the levels of cortisol. Lower baseline levels of cortisol will likely lead to increased anabolic signaling and an easier time for building muscle. I always recommend, if you are doing everything right with your recovery right now but don’t seem to be building muscle as quickly as you should from your hard work, try incorporating cold showers into your daily routine.
Now, this does not mean that you have to take only cold showers.
There are many applications and protocols that involve alternating periods of cold and hot water (in a contrast setting) or simply applying the cold water and then stepping out of the water all together for alternating bouts.
If you haven’t tried to boost your stalled muscle gains by taking a cold shower, it is definitely something you will want to give a shot. Remember to commit to it for about 4 weeks at minimum if you decide to try it. It takes the body some time to adjust to the shock of cold showers at the beginning.
It will also allow your body more time to notice the benefits in your recovery and the resulting muscle growth that might happen if you are in that state of lower cortisol levels that are holding back your muscle gains.
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