Contrast Bath for Recovery

Contrast Bath for Recovery

Most of us don’t think about recovery.

If we do, we think that stretching is the only thing needed for recovery.

I find stretching helps but there are other things you can do to help you and your clients with recovering from a workout or activity.

Here are the 47 exercises that I used in my Recovery Workouts.


Just a few days back, I got a question from Mike Whitfield on my opinion on contrast baths for recovery.

Here, we go with a little research to back things up.

Contrast Bath as a Recovery Strategy

When it comes to the contrast bath there are a lot of different definitions.

Let’s define contrast baths as a period of time in hot water followed by a period of time in cold water, for a number of repetitions.

Whether contrast baths are beneficial or not depends on the situation.

If we look at the effect on performance after a contact bath, it has little or no benefit.

Let’s look at some of the research highlights:

  1. The physiological effects may not be great when it comes to the contrast bath but there are perceived benefits. People that do contrast baths feel it is helping them. (Coffey 2004).
  2. There is an improvement in a decrease in lactate accumulation after running when performing contrast bath, but lactate levels return back to normal after 4 hours from the end of the exercise (Coffey 2004).
  3. There is improved blood flow if you spend a longer time in the warm bath compared to the cold bath (Shih 2012).
  4. There is an increase in superficial blood flow and skin temperature (Breger Stanton 2008).
  5. Contrast baths help decrease blood lactate and heart rate, but do no affect sprint performance (Hamlin 2007).

Summing It All Up: The Benefits of Contrast Baths for Recovery

Now that we have those points above, what does it mean?

If you are performing contrast baths to help with short term performance, there is little to no benefit.

If you are looking at contrast baths to help recover from a workout and you do not plan to perform any workout until the next day or two, there are benefits. The contrast bath has a mental effect that you are doing something good for your body, plus gives your brain a chance to gear down from the exercises.

The contrast bath helps decrease your heart rate and lactate blood levels at a quicker rate than when not performing a contrast bath. Lastly, the contrast bath helps improve blood flow to the muscles and skin.

I hope that all makes sense and happy contrast bathing!

References for the Benefits of Contrasts Baths for Recovery

Breger Stanton DE, Lazaro R, Macdermid JC. (2008). A systematic review of the effectiveness of contrast baths. J Hand Ther. 2009 Jan-Mar;22(1):57-69; quiz 70. Epub 2008 Oct 22.

Coffey V, Leveritt M, Gill N. (2004). Effect of recovery modality on 4-hour repeated treadmill running performance and changes in physiological variables. Coffey V, Leveritt M, Gill N.

Hamlin MJ. (2007). The effect of contrast temperature water therapy on repeated sprint performance. J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Dec;10(6):398-402. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

Shih CY, Lee WL, Lee CW, Huang CH, Wu YZ. (2011). Effect of time ratio of heat to cold on brachial artery blood velocity during contrast baths. Phys Ther. 2012 Mar;92(3):448-53. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

If you are looking for a few workouts that I use to help recovery from workouts and activities, you can check out Recovery Workouts:

Rick Kaselj, MS

Recovery Workouts