Contrast Bath Therapy For Runners – A Complete Guide
As a runner, we often look for ways that can help speed up recovery from workouts. Whether this is massaging, ice baths, or compression wear, there are numerous products and protocols you can follow to help shorten recovery time.
Contrast hydrotherapy is one of those tools you can add to your training. So let’s take a look at how contrast bath therapy for runners works and how a runner can benefit from them.
What Is Contrast Bath Therapy?
Contrast bath therapy is the process of immersing your body in hot water then ice-cold water. This process involves alternating between the two water temperatures in the hope to speed up recovery after training.
Also known as Contrast hydrotherapy, this form of recovery involves no active movements, such as stretching your muscles or light training to increase blood flow.
What it does do is offer a passive recovery through alternating hot and cold water. This form of immersion helps to improve circulation throughout the body. Hot and cold water immersion is especially beneficial if you have an ongoing injury or struggling with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
However, to follow the correct protocol, you will need to access multiple bathtubs. You will then need to fill up one tub with hot water and the other with ice-cold water. Needing two bathtubs often makes it difficult for athletes to perform at home, so this form of recovery is not as popular as ice baths, for example.
Luckily, if you do have the ability to do this, some of the benefits you may experience using this method of recovery is:
– Decreased pain
– Decreased swelling
– Controlled inflammation
– Improved mobility
It is also widely used for soft tissue injuries and joint pain and not only just a form of recovery.
Although there are many benefits on paper to this form of treatment, does it actually work?
A study done by the SDM College of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences, India, found that Contrast bath therapy (hydrotherapy) helped improve fatigue, anxiety and decrease pain.
Another study focusing on athletes found that hydrotherapy worked far superior to passive rest after exhaustive or damaging exercise. The study showed that athletes were subject to a reduction in muscle soreness and improved muscle function after using cold and hot water immersion.
So, based on the evidence above, it can be a positive recovery and injury rehabilitation protocol for athletes to use.
Contrast Bath Therapy For Runners – A Complete Guide
Contrast bath therapy for runners offers many benefits, not only recovery and injury prevention but for general well-being too.
Based on recent studies, some of the benefits you may experience using this form of recovery is:
Regular baths alternating cold and hot water will help to alleviate post-workout fatigue. In 2017 a study of team sports players was completed after receiving contrast baths. They found that alternating between hot and cold baths helped them recover within 24-48 hours after a match. However, during the study, they found that following a similar protocol with cold water didn’t provide the same benefits, showing that hot and cold water immersion was far superior in reducing fatigue.
Decreased muscle soreness
Running and all endurance sports are known to damage muscle fibers. Often this damage causes soreness that isn’t experienced until a day or more later, which is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Researchers found that DOMS was reduced when athletes used hydrotherapy and kept the hot water temperature below 40°C. But it is important to note that the same benefit was found by only using cold water therapy.
Lactic Acid Removal
During intense workouts, lactic acid develops in the body. While this is normal, it can often cause symptoms of fatigue and soreness. Although through rest, hydration and light exercise you may be able to ease the symptoms. However, immersing yourself in hot and cold water has been shown to speed up the removal process.
Reduction of swelling
Hot and cold water baths have been known for many years to help reduce swelling. For a runner, this is important because it may help speed up the recovery time from an injury and training. Numerous studies have found that contrast hydrotherapy reduces swelling of the muscles, and in some cases, ankle sprains and other soft tissue injuries.
Contrast Bath Instructions & Temperatures
To get the most benefit from this method, you must first know what contrast bath instructions to follow. This includes the temperature needed for both the cold and hot water and the time you need to spend in each water temperature.
Unfortunately, there are a few different temperatures from studies that claim to produce the best results we mentioned in this article. Because of this, we will look at the most positive and trustworthy protocol we have found.
To perform a contrast bath, you first need access to two bathtubs or pools. One of these needs to be filled with cold water 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (10-15 degrees Celsius) and the other (hot water) 98-110 degrees Fahrenheit (36-43 degrees Celsius).
If you don’t have access to either a pool or bath, you can use a tub for the hot water and a bucket for the cold water. While it is not as effective, it will still work.
Once both tubs have reached the correct temperature, either place your injured body part or entire body in hot water first. Stay in the hot water tub for 3-4 minutes, then change to the cold tub for around 1 minute. Then alternate between the two.
Generally, this process lasts around 20-30 minutes, and you will need to keep track of water temperature. However, that may change after about 10 minutes, so you will need to add more hot water or ice to keep the temperature stable.
Unfortunately, there is no current data that provides the optimal temperature to follow. Also, the period spent in both the hot and cold water may vary in results for people. So take the above method as a guideline to help find the optimal time and water temperature for you.