Cold Shower Benefits For Runners
What’s better than a hot shower to start your day? How about a cold shower? Not many of us would willingly make the swap, but it turns out a cold shower is good for you.
Cold showers and cold-water immersion are everywhere. On the Disney show Limitless, I watch Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame explore the health benefits of cold-water exposure. One of my favorite triathletes, Lionel Sanders, has started experimenting with cold-water immersion after his introduction following Kona last year. And, naturally, it is all over social media feeds.
Can cold showers and cold-water immersion benefit runners? I researched for us and summarized five leading health benefits below:
1. Support Fat Loss
According to a Harvard clinical study, cold exposure increases brown fat in the body. Here’s a similar study from European researchers. Most fat in the body is white fat, which stores excess energy throughout the body and insulates organs. Too much white fat leads to obesity. In contrast, brown fat stores and burns energy to regulate body temperature. Your body burns brown fat to produce heat before your body begins to shiver.
The theory seems to make sense. Frequent cold exposure from cold-water showers will encourage your body to store more brown fat. In both studies, participants were exposed to cold temperatures for several hours for ten days --- not the same conditions as a 30-second cold-water shower. Still, perhaps, the shower will produce the same adaptation over time.
Why is more brown fat helpful to runners? Well, brown fat is programmed to burn and does so more quickly and easier than white fat stores.
2. Boots Circulation
When exposed to cold, your body restricts blood vessels, driving blood from the extremities to the core to protect the vital heart and lungs. The increased blood flow increases circulation throughout the body, helping to deliver nutrients to muscles and flush waste products.
Why is this helpful to runners? The better your cardiovascular system circulates blood, the better your muscles will work.
3. Provide Pain Relief
The Disney series Limitless extraordinarily highlights this benefit through the story of a woman whose legs were severely injured in an accident. She suffered from chronic leg pain afterward, despite all interventions from modern medicine. It wasn’t until she studied how cold water immersion slows the rate at which the body sends pain signals to the brain. Now, she is a world-class free diver specializing in icy waters. Once in the chilly water, the pain in her legs disappears, and that relief remains throughout the day.
Why is this helpful to runners? A cold shower elicits the same response as the post-run ice bath: restricting blood vessels, pushing out lactic acid from muscles, and reducing swelling. A cold water shower can aid in recovery from strenuous workouts – although a cold shower after a workout is the last thing I want to do!
4. Increase Energy and Alertness
Step into a cold shower, and this point becomes obvious! The cold water shocks your body, making you gasp for breath. Your nervous system is thrust into its fight-or-flight response. Then, your breathing rate increases as you struggle to adjust to the stress of cold water. Your body is flooded with more oxygen. Your energy and alertness are heightened; in my experience, this feeling follows you after the shower.
Why is this helpful to runners? Your fight-or-flight response can be triggered in races when something does not go to plan --- you miss an aid station, trip, or get annoyed by the runners around you. Learning how to manage the flight-or-response is a valuable skill.
5. Improves Mental Toughness
It’s hard to disagree with this one. Hoping into a cold-water shower takes guts. Staying under the water for 30 to 60 seconds is an act of will power.
Why is this helpful to runners? Runners are intimately familiar with discomfort, and cold-water showers are no different. It’s good to be uncomfortable. This feeling of mental toughness will stick with you when you need it most in workouts, races, and your daily life.
How To Get Started
There are two easy methods to get started with a cold-water shower. First, turn the water all the way to cold for 30 seconds after you have taken your usual hot shower. Alternatively, cranked the water to cold and hop in for the start of your shower! Do not overthink this one. Both ways are uncomfortable!
Another more advanced method is to purchase an ice bath like this one. The idea here is to immerse your full body for longer periods of time. A simpler solution is bath tub full of cold (or iced) water.
As always, consult with your doctor if you have any concerns before beginning a cold water immersion plan.
Best wishes to everyone on chase their running --- BRRRR --- goals!
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