Hot and Cold Contrast Therapy

(Aspiring writers: the following is not the greatest hook, and should not be replicated by anyone thinking about writing. Anything. Ever. For anyone) The topic of this post is a bit controversial. Not because it is dangerous, but because it is unproven as effective.

The topic expounded: Exposing oneself to intermittent bouts of hot and cold temperatures (with ice, cold packs, showers, or plunges into cold water following a similar dose of heat) has yet to stand the test of time, and the tests of a significant body of scientific studies. The tests that have been run, as well as the anecdotal evidence, show results that warrant a true athlete's experimentation and evaluation.

I will state my bias right off the bat: I am a fan of contrast therapy. I think cold therapy by itself does great things. I think that heat therapy by itself does a little for some people (I am not one of them). However, when the two are put together I think that the best gains in recovery are made.

My personal preferred process of H&C therapy for high school athletes (or for those too busy for more):
  1. Take your normal shower at desired temperature
  2. Get ready!
  3. Crank water temperature down as far as tolerable (Do it, Wimp!)
  4. Push it a little further
  5. Move you/the shower head to around to sore parts of body, and always the back, neck, and shoulders
  6. You should stay in the cold spray for 1 - 2 minutes
  7. Turn the heat back up for 1 minute (Enjoy, because the cold is returning)
  8. Turn it back to cold for 1 minute, and try to go a little colder (you will surprise yourself with how accustomed you become to the cold after only a few efforts)
  9. Optional: try not to make any noise, or fidgety movements; relax
  10. Repeat as many times as wanted--I think one is better than none, but you should aim for 3 cold sessions.
Now, judge your recovery. Is your soreness reduced immediately? Long term? Did you feel more prepared at your next workout? Did you feel more awake and alert directly afterwards? (One of the nice unintended benefits of H&C therapy--if you end your shower on a cold session you tend to be more awake and alert for some time to come. So, athletes, DO NOT end on a cold session right before you lay down for your 9 hours of sleep!)

Want more info, and better justification than I can provide? Check out Patrick Ward's article from optimumsportsperformance.com. Mark Verstegen's response to a reader's question is a bit more simplistic, but I really like the brief explanation of what your blood does during this. This is how I was introduced to H&C therapy.

Remember different things work for different people so no guarantees this will fix you right up, but with how important recovery is it is worth you trying as much as you can until you do find what works for you. I think you will find the simplicity of this method nice, because it is quick, clean, and (relatively) painless.