Contrast Showers

I have the book entitled “Core Performance” by Mark Verstegen. Being in-season for baseball, I applied some of his training techniques including contrast showers. He recommends 3 mins. hot, 30 secs cold 3 x. This starts the day off and you finish cold, and you end the day before bed finishing hot. I did this because practice was not that taxing. By now (1 month), it has truly lost any flavor (the good feeling of being “new”). Also if I go through a great workout, feeling mobile and strong afterwards, the shower has me feeling like less of an athlete.

Is this effective? Need alternatives and ideas.


Why not do the contrast showers once a week and finish with cold…doing a hot bath after a long day will put you to sleep like a baby and milk.

Anyone ever head of ending on warm so that the body doesn’t have to waste energy warming up? One of my athletes had their physio tell them this. I always tell them to end on cold.

In a recent paper (1), the authors contend that it is hydrostatic pressure alone and not temperature (hot, cold, or contrasting) that promotes exercise recovery. Additionally, they make a case for the antigravity effect caused by buoyancy in reducing the perception of fatigue and aiding in energy conservation. In reference to contrast baths in particular, they argue that “intramuscular temperature has not been observed to change with alternating contrasts, only subcutaneous temperature”.

They recommend that the athlete immerse themselves in a cool to thermoneutral bath (e.g. a pool) for 10 minutes or longer.

  1. Physiological response to water immersion: a method for sport recovery?
    Sports Med. 2006; 36(9):747-65

I read that paper, but it also claimed no method helped recovery so look at it in that light too.

Not disputing the facts but just bear it in mind … The Theory Practice Gap

I only finish with hot if i want to do some stretching after.

That’s all well and good- if you assume that the effects are muscular only and not the effects on the nervous system. I would argue that ALL the effects play a role in enhancing recovery.

actually, you’re thinking of the other sports med paper I think, that concluded tha no modalities worked

However, important to note that they only looked (and the researchers pointed this out) at two specific endpoints: blood lactate and DOMS. Which are hardly the only endpoints for recovery between sessions.

Protein synthesis, gene expression, CNS recovery are all part of the big picture and none of that has been systematically studied in the Western literature.


Sports Med. 2006;36(9):781-96. Links
Using Recovery Modalities between Training Sessions in Elite Athletes : Does it Help?

    * Barnett A.

Sorry yes I’m confusing the two - (I actually read both!)

Two very good papers - but exactly that Lyle, the proved only what they tested or looked for.

Can they even measure CNS stress/recovery anyway?!

Omegawave maybe?

Hell yes, they can measure it! With a stopwatch in training!
It can’t be done the first time out because you can perform too late as well as too early to get the optimal supercompensation but eventually you’ll see a pattern.
The lag time between muscular recovery and an advance in performance capacity that experimentation reveals must be explained by an organism response that can be defined for our purposes as CNS recovery.

Well yes - but I actually meant could or would academia measure CNS fatigue? … As you know many academics dismiss it as pruely a physcial phenom even still and therefore as in the papers listed above don’t even assess for it.

I think this may have some relevance in the future and it would be easily tested. Although it was looking at overtraining, it wouldn’t surprise me if changes were seen much more acutely than this. You could test at baseline, test after a high CNS workout, or test in subsequent days to see how long it takes for reaction times to return to normal.

You could easily make a small reaction tester to check for changes in psychomotor speed and test stuff in the lab. Or on the field for that matter.


Sports Med. 2006;36(10):817-28. Links
Psychomotor speed : possibly a new marker for overtraining syndrome.

    * Nederhof E,
    * Lemmink KA,
    * Visscher C,
    * Meeusen R,
    * Mulder T.

Center for Human Movement Sciences, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The NetherlandsUniversity Center for Sport, Movement and Health, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.

Overtraining syndrome (OTS) is a major threat for performance and health in athletes. OTS is caused by high levels of (sport-specific) stress in combination with too little regeneration, which causes performance decrements, fatigue and possibly other symptoms. Although there is general consensus about the causes and consequences, many different terminologies have been used interchangeably.The consequences of overreaching and overtraining are divided into three categories: (i) functional overreaching (FO); (ii) non-functional overreaching (NFO); and (iii) OTS. In FO, performance decrements and fatigue are reversed within a pre-planned recovery period. FO has no negative consequences for the athlete in the long term; it might even have positive consequences. When performance does not improve and feelings of fatigue do not disappear after the recovery period, overreaching has not been functional and is thus called NFO. OTS only applies to the most severe cases. NFO and OTS could be prevented using early markers, which should be objective, not manipulable, applicable in training practice, not too demanding, affordable and should be based on a sound theoretical framework. No such markers exist up to today. It is proposed that psychomotor speed might be such a marker.OTS shows similarities with chronic fatigue syndrome and with major depression (MD). Through two meta-analyses, it is shown that psychomotor slowness is consistently present in both syndromes. This leads to the hypothesis that psychomotor speed is also reduced in athletes with OTS. Parallels between commonly used models for NFO and OTS and a threshold theory support the idea that psychomotor speed is impaired in athletes with NFO or OTS and could also be used as an early marker to prevent NFO and/or OTS.

is this pretty much what to do?

Glad to see a few people were reading what I wrote 20 years ago and passing it along! BTW, it’s 3min hot, one min cold- 30sec isn’t long enough.

Just a few points from Thomas Kurz’s Science of Sports Training:
[li]Shower after every workout
[/li][li]Contrast showers are more effective than a shower of constant temperature for recovery
[/li][li]A protocol of 5 x 60sec hot then 5-10sec cold is given
[/li][li]Where a heavy workout raises body temp significantly start with 2-3min cold shower then make it warmer. End with cool water
[/li][li]Sudden cooling by shower or bath stimulates the sympathetic system and invigorates
[/li][li]Gradual cooling stimulates the parasympathetic system and calms the athlete down
Note that the above protocol is different to that mentioned by Charlie Francis which has a longer period of cold water.

Kurz uses a number of sources, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how these can work together. For example, point 4 above doesn’t mention if contrast showers are used as part of this ‘cool down’ type of shower.

As a note, Verkhoshansky said this book is trash. Someone asked him about it and his response was like “throw it out”. They questioner said “are you serious”, he said “yes”. I have the book and it certainly is interesting…