So if you've done a quick search about recovery after a run, you will find a lot of advice. You will probably see "drink electrolytes", "drink water", "eat some carbs", "eat some protein", and also the dreaded advice of taking an ice bath.
I HATE ice baths.
I've tried taking them before, and grant you they weren't even "real" ice baths with ice, but rather just cool bathtub soaks and I still couldn't handle it. My body gets cold really fast, so I end up having uncontrollable shivers and my fingers turn blue even if I leave on all of my running clothes and drink hot liquids. I've tried to make it work, it just doesn't for me even after trying all the tricks.
What I have found that works is contrast showers!
DISCLAIMER: I'm in no way a medical expert or trainer, this is just something that works for me. Okay now on with it!
Growing up I spent A LOT of time at the dance studio. Ballet, jazz, afro-caribbean, tap, modern, flamenco,.. you name it, I probably took a class in it. During the summer you'd go away to a summer intensive camp for 6-10 weeks where you would have dance classes for 4-8 hours a day plus additional yoga or pilates classes depending on the program. It gets really intense and you discover ALL of your muscles. Our head instructor recommended contrast showers after hard days to help relax the muscles and aid recovery since we had to do it all again the next day and I've kept that advice in my arsenal of recovery techniques ever since.
To perform a contrast shower is pretty easy and just requires that you alternate between very cold and very hot water. The cold water helps draw heat out of the muscles and restricts blood flow, the hot water helps to relax muscles and relieve tension.
Contrast Shower Instructions: (this is what I do, there are lots of different takes on what is best)
- Begin with warm water (I usually finish up my normal post run shower with the contrast shower)
- Turn the water to cold, stand under the water for 30-60 seconds
- Turn the water to hot, stand under the water for 2-3 min (you should feel some of the tension leaving your muscles)
- Repeat for a total of 3 cold segments.
- Finish on hot and make sure to really relax (some people say to finish on cold to keep blood vessels in a contracted phase)
And your finished! You can do concentrated blasts the cold water on your "hot" muscles to make sure you are drawing out the heat and helping your muscles recover. I usually will focus the cold on my calves and thigh muscles because they tend to stay warm well after a long run and can sometimes mean I have trouble sleeping.
It's super easy and while it's still uncomfortable, it's like interval running where you only have to put up with the "hard" part for a short period of time. It works much better for me and leaves me relaxed but still feeling like I've gotten some cold water benefits.
Here are some additional articles if you want to get some information of your own: