Family YMCA of Black Hawk County

Exercise Recovery and Performance



Water Immersion on Exercise Recovery and Performance

Rhett Turner, M.A., ACE-CPT, USAW-SPL1

Post Workout PlungeFrom first-hand experience as a collegiate athlete, this is a very common (and uncomfortable) practice.  Some folks may wonder, is this appropriate for the average gym-goer? Or is this useful for athletes only?

Recovery between training sessions and competition is key for long-term training adaptations and optimal sports performance.  Improper recovery after exercise sessions may hinder us from training as our desired intensities and may increase the chances of injury, illness, and overtraining (Wilcock, Cronin, Hing, 2006).  The importance of recovery for optimal performance has sparked interest in various strategies that can aid us in the recovery process. Some immersion strategies include cold-water immersion, hot-water immersion, and contrast water therapy.  Most of us do not have the access or the means to fill up an entire bath with hot or cold water. However, contrast water therapy (hot-cold showers) may be a quick and easy alternative for recovery.

Contrast water therapy may be a viable recovery tool because of the potential to rapidly flush blood throughout the body.  Cold water removes blood quickly from the limbs and carries waste products away; while hot water brings fresh blood back in.  This promotes blood circulation throughout our body. This practice is believed to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by reducing the amount of lactate in the blood and inflammation (Vaile, Gill, Blazevich, 2007).

The mechanism by which alternating the two temperatures remains to be determined.  However, there are four likely candidates that may be responsible (Vaile, Gill, Blazevich, 2007).

  1.  Hydrostatic pressure associated with this process could lead to both muscular and vascular compression and reduce muscular swelling
  2. Warm water may promote vasodilation to aid waste management and nutrient delivery to the muscle.  
  3. Cold water may aid in reducing muscle and skin temperature and up-regulating the sympathetic nervous system.  
  4. Alternating hot (dilation) and cold (constriction) water may induce a “pumping effect” 

Here is a very simple procedure that my strength and conditioning coach gave to us during my time at Buena Vista.  


Here is a very simple procedure to add to your recovery tools every once in awhile.  


Y contrast Shower 

  • Start with a hot shower (temperature shouldn’t burn!)
    for 2 to 3 minutes
  • Slowly turn down the temperature to cold
  • Take a cold shower for 2 to 3 minutes
  • Repeat this cycle for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Place shower stream on any sore areas for added relief.


Vaile J, Gill N, Blazevich AJ. The effect of contrast water therapy on symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and explosive athletic performance. J Strength Cond Res 2007; 21: 697–702

Wilcock IM, Cronin JB, Hing WA. Water immersion: does it enhance recovery from exercise? Int J Sport Physiol Perform 2006; 1: 195 –206

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