Cold showers are like pineapple on pizza—you’re either passionately for them or take offense at the thought. While you might not be the type to pop out of bed at 4 a.m. (we’ll leave that to Mark Wahlberg) and snap your senses into productivity mode with a painfully cold shower, most of us would agree a cold rinse after a workout is downright refreshing.
Some research suggests subjecting yourself to a frigid shower may also reduce muscle soreness, accelerate recovery, reduce inflammation, and boost metabolism (1, 2, 3). According to longevity experts, freezing your ass off might extend your healthspan, too.
But here’s the thing: Cold exposure right after your workout may blunt muscle gains (4).
Should You Take a Cold Shower After a Workout?
If you’re looking to boost muscle, you might want to skip the icy post-workout shower. In a recent episode of his podcast, The Drive, longevity physician Peter Attia, M.D. points to research suggesting cold water therapy right after resistance training might reduce hypertrophy (or muscle growth) (4).
“You’ll want to minimize your use of [cold water therapy] after resistance training if your objectives are strength and/or hypertrophy,” Attia says. If your focus is cardiovascular training like slow and steady zone 2 training or high-intensity sprints, however, then the trade-off might be worth it.
Cold Showers Help Muscle Recovery, Hamper Gains
The reason a cold shower can hamper gains is the same reason why it accelerates post-workout recovery. Your body responds to exercise with an acute inflammatory response. Although inflammation is often linked to everything from injuries to chronic diseases, this specific inflammatory response is essential to repair and rebuild damaged muscle after a workout (5).
Cold exposure can reduce inflammation, helping to ease muscle soreness and clear metabolic waste in the process (6, 7, 8). It can help you come back to workouts more quickly and perform at a high-level day after day. Which makes post-workout cold exposure a good option for athletes—or anyone looking to meet high training demands—who need to recover, stat.
That said, you might still want to embrace cold showers if your goal is to build muscle. The recovery benefits may help you inch towards bigger and better PRs. Just save it for a rest day, or consider taking one before your workout.
Timing your cold shower before your workout offers unique benefits, according to a GQ interview with neuroscientist and cold exposure enthusiast Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. “Big surges in dopamine, that are long-lasting, that you can induce with deliberate cold exposure, are huge elevators for mood and alertness and well-being throughout the day,” he says.
11 Benefits of Cold Showers
Ready to crank your shower handle down to its lowest setting? Here’s what to expect.
Similar to other forms of short, intermittent stress—like exercise and intermittent fasting—a freezing cold shower may trigger hormesis. Simply put, hormesis is a phenomenon in which adaptive responses to small bouts of mild stress like cold (which in greater amounts could be harmful) can make cells stronger. Hormesis can cause a cascade of cellular processes, which some research suggests may be associated with enhanced overall health, slowed aging, and greater resilience to both mental and physical stress (9, 10).
Accelerates workout recovery
When done in tandem with a proper cooldown, one study found that cold water therapy sped up recovery (11). How? As cold water hits your skin, it constricts blood vessels near the surface of your body—a process called vasoconstriction. This helps to clear metabolic waste (like lactate) out of your muscles and helps reduce swelling and inflammation (7). Afterward, as your body temperature increases your blood vessels open, pumping your muscles with fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients to aid in recovery.
Relieves post-exercise muscle soreness
In addition to helping flush your muscles of toxins, making your post-workout shower a cold one can reduce or delay muscle soreness. According to a review published in 2023, post-workout cold water immersion can effectively reduce the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue instantly (1).
After an endorphin-boosting workout, use a cold shower to keep the good vibes rolling. One study found that just a single bout of cold water immersion improved mood (12). Huberman suspects the lift in spirits after cold exposure is due to the release of dopamine—the “feel-good” hormone which boosts mood, energy, and focus.
Huberman points to a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that showed significant and prolonged increases in dopamine after people were in cool (60°F) water up to their necks for one hour (13). Even small bouts of deliberate cold exposure can cause a lasting increase in dopamine, he says on Huberman Lab.
Taking a cold shower for a total of seven or eight minutes—five minutes to slowly adjust the water to 68°F, then two to three minutes in the coldest water—once or twice a day, may help relieve symptoms of depression according to a small study published in Medical Hypothesis (14). Per Attia, cold exposure’s non-depressive effects might be due to an increase in norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in the regulation of arousal, attention, cognitive function, and stress reactions.
Attia credits the same European Journal of Applied Physiology study as Huberman which also found that after an hour of cool water exposure, norepinephrine levels increased by a whopping 530 percent (14). “This neurotransmitter response is potentially one of the reasons we think cold therapy might be a viable tool for depression,” Attia explains on The Drive. “It’s still not entirely clear what the mechanisms of action are in the brain, but I will say subjectively most people find it very mood stabilizing to have even a fraction of the cold immersion from these studies.”
Enhances mental clarity and alertness
Struggling to shake off morning grogginess? Freezing water releases a cocktail of norepinephrine and dopamine, a combo that shifts your nervous system into a temporary sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) state—increasing oxygen intake, heart rate, and alertness. In other words, a cold shower is exactly what you need to get hyped for the day.
Fires up metabolism
In the short term, cold exposure increases metabolism since your body has to burn more calories to maintain core body temperature. On the flip side, when your body is exposed regularly to cold conditions like a cold shower or ice bath, some research suggests that it may convert some white fat (energy storage) to beige fat (a combo of white and brown fat cells) which generates heat by torching more calories (15).
EMBRACE THE PLUNGE
Supports weight loss
A fast metabolism means more weight loss, right? Right. By stimulating brown fat tissue, cold exposure can elevate energy expenditure and improve insulin sensitivity—key factors in combating obesity and type 2 diabetes (15).
Considering testosterone levels naturally dip with age, we’ll take any boost we can get. One study found that when athletes were subjected to extremely low temperatures in a cryotherapy chamber after a grueling sprint session, the concentration of testosterone in their saliva was 21 percent higher two hours after their workout, and 28 percent higher after 24 hours (16). Might a classic icy dip work just as well?
It’s no glutathione, but cold exposure may increase white blood cell count and the number of natural killer cells, which fight infection and protect against disease (17). A study from the Netherlands found that people who ended a warm shower with up to 90 seconds of cold water for 30 days called in sick from work less than people who took showers at a more comfortable temperature (18).
Muscle or joints inflamed? An intolerably cold shower might be the answer. One study found that cold water immersion reduced clinical signs of inflammation like leg swelling after a workout (19). However, the jury’s still out on whether it reduces inflammation at a cellular level.
In theory, cold showers are an inflammation panacea: they release norepinephrine—activating your sympathetic nervous system and hypothetically lowering levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It sounds good. However, according to current research, the way the sympathetic system interacts with the immune system to control inflammation is complex and depends on the context (20). Taking a cold shower isn’t one of them (19).
Is a Cold Shower As Effective as an Ice Bath?
Ice baths or immersion are best, Huberman says on Huberman Lab. But if you don’t want to shell out the cash for a plunge tub, a cold shower can work. The key is that your shower can get down to a cold enough range, which will vary depending on your tolerance to cold water.
What Temperature Should You Cold Shower At?
It depends. Rather than a set temperature, aim for a feeling. Per Huberman, it should feel uncomfortably cold, but manageable to safely stay in for a few minutes. Try starting at somewhere around 60 degrees, “which for most people is pretty tolerable,” he adds.
Just keep in mind, cold shock is real. The National Center for Cold Water Safety urges caution at temperatures below 60 degrees. If you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about whether cold exposure is right for you.
How Long to Cold Shower After a Workout
We get it. You’re willing to muscle up and take a cold shower for the benefits but don’t want to spend a second longer than you have to under the freezing downpour. Good news: According to Huberman, a few studies suggest that all you need is 11 minutes per week, split between two to four sessions, at two to three minutes each (21).
Cold Showers vs. Hot Showers After Working Out
Putting off jumping in a cold shower for a little longer, or forever? Taking a hot shower may come with benefits, too (though not as many). Here’s how the potential benefits of cold and hot showers may compare (17).