I first heard of the benefits of taking cold showers in high school aquatics class when our teacher told us that the cold water would prevent chlorine from damaging our hair. I never really gave it much thought though, and continued taking warm showers in the locker room to rinse off. (Side note: I remember getting my hair cut during that semester, and my hairdresser telling me that she was surprised I swam three days a week because my hair wasn’t damaged at all. Just saying.)
But more recently, I found out that taking cold showers promised a host of other perks. Among them: reducing muscle soreness and inflammation—therefore speeding up recovery—and giving you an energy and mood boost.
I was intrigued. It sounded like big benefits for a small sacrifice. But would these things actually happen? Or is it just another one of those woo-woo wellness fads? I decided that it was worth sacrificing my warm, calming, thought-provoking showers to find out. Here’s what went down.
It takes some time to work up to it.
I really did think I’d be able to turn my shower knob to its coldest setting and be—for all intents and purposes—fine. I knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasantexperience, but I felt like I could hop in, do what I had to do, and hop out relatively unscathed. I quickly learned this was not the case. When I got into the first freezing cold shower, I couldn’t resist reaching for the knob to make it warmer. That’s okay, I thought to myself, I’ll work up to it.
After spending about five minutes in the shower with hot water, I eased into the transition with lukewarm water. A minute later, I turned the knob again so that the water temperature was somewhere between “I’d rather not be doing this” and “this really, really sucks.” That’ll do for now, I thought. I got out and dried off, put on a sweatshirt, and made some tea to in an effort to warm myself up.
I did the same thing the next time I showered and worked up to a temperature that was cool but not necessarily cold. I resolved to stop being a total baby on my third attempt and just turned the knob all the way cold to begin with—and I did. I’m really not lying when I say that it honestly wasn’t that bad—I built it up way worse in my mind. From then on, I took fully cold showers every day.
It gave me an energy boost to start the day.
While I’m typically a night showerer, hearing that cold showers could give you more energy, I decided to give morning showers a shot. (Here’s to going completely out of my comfort zone!) If this claim did turn out to be true, I didn’t want to shower right before bed and then lose out on precious sleep from feeling wired.
The jolt that ice cold water gives you first thing in the morning is no joke. It’s enough to wake up even the groggiest of people (a.k.a. me). And there’s a reason for that: As Aaron Drogoszewski, co-owner of ReCOVER studio in New York City and a NASM-certified personal trainer, previously explained to Runner’s World,“The adrenaline rush you get from immersing yourself in cold water creates a rush of norepinephrine, which helps increase energy, focus, and performance outcomes.”
I genuinely didn’t even feel the need for coffee—which, if you know me, is an extremely rare occurrence. Research backs this part up, too. According to a 2016 study in the journal PLOS One, “the most commonly reported beneficial effect [of cold showers] was an increase in perceived energy levels (including many reported comparisons to the effect of caffeine).”
My concentration and productivity levels felt higher than they had in awhile throughout my first few hours at work, since usually I’d be sipping coffee during that time, and the caffeine’s effects wouldn’t kick in until closer to lunchtime.
Was I able to wake up early enough to shower every morning? I’d be lying if I said yes. But on the days I did, I definitely noticed a difference.
It relieved some of my muscle soreness.
According to Henry Halse, C.S.C.S., owner of Halse Strength and Fitness in Philadelphia, taking cold showers on a regular basis helps your muscles recover from a workout.
“When you apply cold to a surface—for example, your skin—it causes more blood to flow to the area,” he said. “Increased blood flow to an area is what promotes recovery.”
Additionally, a 2009 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that immersing yourself in cold water after lifting, running, or cycling improved muscle recovery and soreness. Of course, a shower isn’t quite the same as immersing yourself in an ice bath, but Halse said, “if you did a sprint workout one day and wanted to do another one the next day, taking a cold shower could help improve your next day’s sprint workout.”
The water should be pretty cold to achieve this—around 5 degrees celsius, he said. Direct your shower head to the specific area of the muscles you worked and spray the water there until the blood rises to the surface, and your skin gets red.
For me, I think it helped my muscles feel better after tough workouts such as speed workouts, CrossFit, and long runs, but I’m also pretty good about foam rolling and taking rest days, so there were many variables that may have contributed to my recovery, but the cold showers probably didn’t hurt.
It strengthened my mental game.
Taking cold showers isn’t easy—and neither is running. But because I was able to grin and bear them (okay, I definitely wasn’t grinning, but you get the point), this mindset translated to my workouts, too.
“Building mental toughness is one of the benefits [of cold showers],” Halse said. “Running is pretty unique in that there’s no distraction in the discomfort. In a team sport, there are other things going on—you have a built-in distraction. When you’re running, there’s not much to distract you—you’re in the moment just paying attention to your body.”
Once I built the confidence to know I was tough enough to endure the cold shower, my attitude towards my workouts changed, too. A particularly tough long run? Sure. A summer speed workout in almost 100 percent humidity? Bring it on.
And guess what? After those tough efforts, I actually started to look forward to the cold shower that followed.
This article originally appeared on Runner's World