HOT/COLD CONTRAST THERAPY
Enhance performance, accelerate recovery & live your best life with contrast training!
HEAT THERAPY is your biggest friend pre-workout and anytime you’re trying to relax, massage your muscles or mobilize your joints. It’s especially important in the morning, when waking up dehydrated & stiff. And it’s an end-of-day or before bed recovery essential. The best modalities include full-body immersion in showers, baths, hot tubs or saunas. But heating pads are a great substitute. I’m a big fan of the wearable vibrating heating pads from Hyperice.
COLD THERAPY is more of a mixed bag. Many practitioners swear by it while other experts claim it can blunt your body’s natural healing response. And for many athletes, this comes down to personal preference: do I want to feel better or heal faster? You can of course apply ice packs or cold compresses but I prefer cold showers, baths or tubs for best results.
CONTRAST TRAINING involves strategically mixing between hot/warm and cold/cool temperatures to stimulate your circulatory system. The COLD causes vasoconstriction, where your small blood vessels called capillaries shrink. The HOT causes vasodilation, widely opening these same capillaries. This opening & closing of blood vessels pumps blood throughout your body with little physical effort.
The benefits include:
- Less joint pain and muscle soreness
- Increased immunity
- Better body regulation in response to extreme temperatures
- Reduced post-workout inflammation & waste materials
- Improved focus
If you’re newer to contrast training, avoid extreme temperatures either way to give your body some time to adapt to this new stressor. In other words, mix between warm/cool in the beginning. Over time, progress to a more hot/cold contrast.
FINISH HOT OR COLD?
Here are some general suggestions:
- Finish COLD to energize and reduce inflammation
- Finish HOT to stay relaxed or when moving on to massage, mobility or training
- Try to avoid extended cold immersion immediately after exercise as some research suggests it can blunt the hypertrophy response (muscle growth)
But please don’t overthink this as it’s easy to get caught in the weeds. In fact, I want you to experiment with both approaches and listen to your body.
If you’re feeling tingling or numbing sensations, it’s too cold. If you’re getting faint or lightheaded, it’s too hot. Please be safe and use good judgement.
There are endless ways to use contrast training. And I encourage you to explore different possibilities in search of what works best for your body. But here are my 2 favorite routines to get you started:
THE QUICKIE CONTRAST
- 1-2 minutes hot/warm
- 1-2 minutes cold/cool
- That’s 1 round
- Repeat for 5-20 minutes
THE QUEEN OF CONTRASTS
- Start with 10-30 minutes hot/warm soak
- Then hit 2-5 rounds of this contrast interval:
2 minutes cold/cool
2 minutes hot/warm
- Follow with massage for best results
In addition, I highly recommend using the box breath for calm, focus & extra breath training during the contrast intervals. To review, a 5-second box breath consists of 4 equivalent phases of breathing:
- 5-second inhale through nose
- 5-second breath hold
- 5-second exhale through mouth
- 5-second breath hold
That’s 1 rep or breath cycle that takes 20-seconds to complete. Perform 3-6 reps to fill each 1-2 minute section of the contrast intervals for best results.
I won’t lie to you… there’s no substitute for what neck-down immersion in water can do for your body from a health, performance & recovery standpoint. Water provides a constant hydrostatic pressure or resistance for your breathing muscles to work against. So better breathing in the water instantly translates into better breathing on land.
It also provides 3-D full-body compression. Compression is key for reducing inflammation and increasing circulation. I’ve heard some experts in the recovery space claim that 1 hour in water is equivalent to 24 hours of compression-wear on dry land.
I highly recommend you invest in a hot tub, especially if you’re over 40. Put that disposable income to work and invest in your body. Hot tubs are expensive but there are inflatable options online that are $1,000 or less. And you can use a barrel or a big plastic garbage can and fill it with cold water from your sink or a backyard hose and/or add ice for an economy cold tub. If you have a pool, don’t heat it to turn it into a huge cold tub.