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Hydrotherapy: How Water Can Help You Recover from Workouts

You are a girl gone strong.

You lift, run, jump, push, pull, and swing until the sweat drips down your beautiful back–muscles burning and heart pumping. You love to lift, and we get it, because so do we.

But, do you ever feel so utterly exhausted after a workout that you don’t even have the energy to take a shower? I know I do. Exercising invigorates me, sure, but for that first hour post training sometimes I am completely smoked. And to be honest, while basking in my post-workout glory, the idea of a shower just seems all too cumbersome.

But I should take a shower, of course. Plus, I want to make sure that all my hard work in the gym isn’t made moot by days and days of sore, achy muscles.

The answer: A hot/cold recovery shower.

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We get asked questions all the time about how to help sore muscles recover in order to get back to the gym for the next session, and my top three answers are always foam rolling, a good night’s rest, and hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy has long been used as a remedy for various illnesses and ailments, and dates back to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. While modern medicine has advanced and uncovered much more effective cures for most diseases, the use of water still has immense therapeutic value.

The theory behind contrast water therapy is that the warm water causes vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels), followed by vasoconstriction (contraction of blood vessels) from the cold water, effectively creating a pumping action and increasing blood flow. The belief is that this expansion and contraction will promote muscle recovery and the cold water will decrease inflammation. This is a very effective recovery strategy that’s easy to incorporate post-workout and may actually reduce muscle soreness; not to mention it feels completely amazing.

Now, if you’re anything like me, the idea of a cold shower will send you running for the hills. I despise being cold. I will often take showers without even turing on the cold water, so needless to say, I was a pretty hard sell when it came to this cold water business.

The key, as with anything we attempt with our bodies and minds, is to start small and build up. Try two minutes of hot (as hot as you normally use), and then 15-30 seconds of cool/cold (start with cool, and slowly work your way to colder, the more experience you have with these showers). Then, continue to increase the duration of cool/cold while either keeping the hot time the same, or decreasing it. If you have a lot of activity ahead of you, try ending with cold to stimulate the nervous system and enhance focus and energy. If it’s the end of your day, end the shower with hot water to encourage relaxation.

Recovery and Regeneration is one of the most integral parts of training. Hard work requires focused recovery in order to be truly beneficial. Over-training and under-recovering can have negative effects on both your body and your mental state. It’s imperative that as women who love to lift and and sweat, we also have diligent and effective recovery strategies in place in order to be successful.

Hard work is a big part of the puzzle, but unfortunately, that is where a lot of us stop. You simply cannot work hard all the time, and you absolutely must care for your body, allowing it to recover.

Next time you have a grueling workout, give the hot/cold shower a try! While it might feel awful at the time, you will end feeling invigorated–sort of like your workout, in fact.

Note: Keep in mind that contrast showers can affect your blood pressure, and can leave you feeling dizzy or faint if you use water that’s too hot or too cold, you use extreme temperatures too quickly, you’re pre-disposed to dizziness or fainting, or blood pressure/heart issues. I suggest you discuss with your doctor before you try a contrast shower, and definitely listen to your body. If you start feeling faint, stop and sit down. You can also start by just using the water on your limbs, and not your entire body. Experiment to figure out what feels good to you and work well for your body.

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About The Author: Neghar Fonooni

Girls Gone Strong co-founder Neghar Fonooni is a fitness and lifestyle coach, writer, entrepreneur, veteran, wife, and mom. Neghar’s mission is to help women all over the world live fit, happy, empowered lives without stress and shame. Learn more about Neghar on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.