Hot Or Cold For Muscle Recovery?

Heat therapy and cold therapy treatments are widely used by many people for many health-related purposes.

Although most may not know the exact process and why they work for certain things. Some may even be using them for the wrong thing unknowingly. 

So it will be good to know beforehand when using this kind of temperature-based therapy for your sore muscles.

Is Hot Or Cold Good For Muscle Recovery?

Actually, they can both be good in certain situations it all depends on what your muscles are recovering from.

And it will all make sense once you understand what each type of therapy does and how it works.

Heat Therapy For Recovery

Heat therapy is used in any case where it is beneficial to increase circulation and blood flow to the heated area. The heat accomplishes this by dilating your veins and arteries allowing more blood to flow through them.

This is good for relaxing tight muscles after a effective workout as well as delivering nutrients to sore or fatigued muscles.

Along with delivering nutrients to the fatigued muscle, it will also remove any of the lactic acid buildup that may occur after an intense workout.

A hot steam room or sauna, it is often used by people after a workout

This is effective for easing and even eliminating DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for post-workout relief coming home from the gym. Lactic acid buildup from exercise is the source of this delayed onset soreness.

The elimination of your muscle soreness and the increase of nutrients into your muscle both due to the increased blood flow caused by the heat leads to a really effective formula for muscle recovery. 

However, there is an even more effective method for muscle recovery when it comes to temperature-based therapy and we’ll get to that in a bit.

Cold Therapy For Recovery

This may be a shock to some but cold therapy does exactly the opposite of what heat therapy does. This should not be surprising though as cold is the exact opposite of hot so it makes complete sense.

So doing the opposite of heat therapy cold therapy decreases circulation and blood flow to the area in which ice or cold temperatures is applied.

It does this by constricting the veins and arteries in your body restricting the amount of blood that is able to pass through them. And even numbing any pain that you could be experiencing.

With all of this said cold therapy is not necessarily good for muscle recovery. Well not for your basic everyday muscle recovery anyway. 

What cold therapy is good for is the kind of serious muscle recovery that can occur from big tears in your muscle or the serious pulling of a muscle or any injury that would result in a lot of pain and inflammation.

The cold will play a huge role and aid in preventing swelling easing the inflammation and especially in nullifying the pain in situations like these.

Not only for these symptoms in your muscles but also if you experience these things in your joints as well. Helping restore movement and range of motion all around whether joint or muscle.

The Best Temperature For Muscle Recovery

Heat therapy has its benefits and cold therapy has its own separate benefits but how about using both of them? It is true that heat therapy is better than cold therapy when it comes to your everyday average muscle recovery but using both of them can actually enhance this effect.

A contrasting approach where you alternate between hot and cold brings the most effectiveness and works so good for muscle recovery for the same reason heat works so good but even better.

The constant switch between hot and cold causes a large increase in blood flow to whatever area the temperatures are being applied too.

I actually personally use this contrasting method to relieve leg soreness I experience and enhance muscle recovery for leg day. (see Muscle Recovery For Leg Day)

The reason why this method is even better at increasing blood flow than just heat alone is because the enhanced constriction followed by the enhanced dilation of your blood vessels caused by the different temperatures acts like a pump.

Imagine a water hose is running and you grab it and squeeze it for a moment restricting the water from leaving it.

When you let go of it and let the water travel out freely the water that built up in that moment of restriction will shoot out stronger and further than its original flowing

This is exactly what happens in your body when you alternate between a cold and hot temperature whether it be through temperature packs shower water or whatever else. 

The key is you want to apply these temperatures to your skin just long enough for your blood vessels to take effect then switch.

How many minutes or even seconds you spend applying each can differ depending on how extreme of a temperature you are exposing yourself to.

To sum things up for short-term muscle recovery the contrast from alternating between hot and cold is the best option and it’s an extremely good one.

If you are only sticking to one temperature though stick to a hot temperature with heat therapy. This combined with foam rolling and eating right will help to relieve your DOMS and short-term muscle soreness.

For long-term serious muscle recovery due to an injury or injuries stick to cold temperatures and cooling therapy.

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