Contributed by Andreas Peters RMT
Contrast bath treatments are a great way to help with recovery after exercise and just maintaining your body in general. One of the biggest effects of contrast treatments is increased circulation, which in turn speeds up recovery times after exercise, as well as speeding up recovery in repetitive strain type injuries. Using contrast treatments is not safe with any acute injuries, so if you just sprained your ankle, give this treatment a pass.
The basic protocol that I encourage for my clients is to use hot water for three minutes, followed by cold water for one minute, repeating that three times. It is easiest done for the legs if you have access to a couple large buckets. For anyone that runs I highly encourage the use of contrast treatments on the entirety of the lower legs, especially if you are prone to repetitive strain injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. If you are training a lot, I would recommend doing a contrast bath at least once a week, but it can easily be done several times a week. It can be done for any part of the body, but the forearms and lower leg are the most practical areas for using contrast baths. As a massage therapist, I personally use contrast baths on my forearms to help me maintain my ability to work, and every time I do the contrast I can notice increased circulation in my forearms for several hours following the treatment.
For those interested in the hard Science, unfortunately there are not many high quality studies done on contrast baths. Within the studies that do exist, there is no overwhelming evidence that contrast baths are any more effective than other post workout routines such as stretching or active recovery, but the consensus is that it is more effective than doing nothing. Contrast baths are more appealing at certain times compared to other recovery methods, for example who wants to go for a light jog for their active recovery after an Ironman? At any rate, here are a couple links to fill the need for hard science and to get some more resources about contrast baths:
Thank you Andreas for this post! I have done “ice baths” as recovery after hard runs but I’ve never done contrast baths. I will definitely be giving them a try. Coach Mary
If you, too, are curious about the contrast bath, give them a go and see how you respond. Andreas is an RMT at Cadence Chiropractic, Sport & Health. He specializes in myofascial release technique.