For thousands of years, humans have been using water in various forms to treat mental and physical ailments. Hippocrates, Aristotle and Plato raved about the benefits of hydrotherapy and the Egyptians and Romans were big fans of the practice, too.
More recently, the method of combining hot and cold hydrotherapy (contrast water therapy) has gained popularity for its health and recovery benefits.
So what’s the deal with contrast water therapy? Let’s find out.
Firstly, what is hydrotherapy? Hydrotherapy simply refers to the use of water in any of its forms – water, ice, steam – to assist in rehabilitation, relaxation and recovery.
This could include water aerobics, saunas, cold plunges, mineral baths or even a dip in the ocean!
Contrast Water Therapy
Contrast water therapy (CWT) or hot/cold immersion therapy, is a form of hydrotherapy that involves alternating between hot and cold pools for set periods of time.
For some, the idea of first immersing your body in hot water, and then taking an icy cold bath might sound torturous. But trust us, once you give it a go, you’ll feel the instant benefits and be hooked!
During a CWT session, you’ll alternate between hot and cold pools with set durations for multiple rounds. We recommend aiming for four-minute cycles for three rounds. This means you would stay in a cold pool for four minutes, switch to a hot pool for four minutes and repeat this at least three times.
This practice has many science-backed benefits and is loved by elite athletes, Wim Hof and allied health professionals alike. Essentially, this type of hydrotherapy is so effective for recovery because it combines two potent forms of therapy: cold water immersion and hot water hydrotherapy.
Benefits of cold water immersion
Cold water therapy has been popularised in recent years thanks to advocates like Wim Hof, but it’s safe to say, The Iceman really is onto something – it’s scientifically evident that the body and mind benefit from cold water immersion in many ways:
✔️ Reduces muscle damage
✔️ Reduces inflammation
✔️ Relieves pain
✔️ Improves mood
One recent study found that cold water immersion helped a group of runners improve their 5km running time trial performance. Cold water immersion has been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise and speed up recovery (Bleakley, et al, 2012) and increase muscle oxygenation after fatigue-inducing exercise (Yeung, et al, 2016).
Benefits of hot water therapy
On the other hand, hot water hydrotherapy is known for its ability to:
✔️ Relieve stress and anxiety
✔️ Relax tight muscles and joints
✔️ Promote better sleep
✔️ Regulate the immune system
Some have argued that the reason we feel so relaxed and invigorated in a hot pool is because the immersion in warm water triggers a hardwired comfort mechanism that reminds us of being in the womb.
Hot water therapy has many scientifically-proven benefits, too. A 2022 study showed that hot water therapy helped to improve heat acclimation and running performance in semi-professional AFL athletes.
Combining hot and cold hydrotherapy
Contrast water therapy combines the best of both worlds for maximum rehabilitation, relaxation and recovery effects. Alternating between hot and cold pools expands and contracts your blood vessels increasing blood circulation and reducing inflammation.
The rapid blood flow carries extra oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to assist with repair, decrease pain and also increase your metabolism.
The extreme change in temperatures increases your heart rate and activates a pump mechanism that flushes out lactic acid and toxins.
For an added bonus, the magnesium from Rigs’ hydrotheraphy pools is absorbed through the skin helping to regulate optimal magnesium stores in your body – this further aids in muscle recovery; reducing soreness and inflammation.
Want to give contrast water therapy a go?
A great way to trial CWT at home is to get in a hot shower for a couple of minutes and then turn the handle to give yourself a blast of cool water. As your mind and body get used to the change in temperature, try increasing the duration of each cold vs hot water blast.
We reckon the best way to practice CWT is to join us at Rigs for a hydrotherapy session. The temperature of our hot pools is set at a comforting 39 degrees celsius. Our cold pools are a chilly 9 degrees celsius!
A drop-in session (no bookings required) includes the use of our magnesium hot and cold pools, massage spas and steam sauna. Plus, our expert team is always on hand if you have any questions about contrast water therapy.
What are you waiting for? Your first hydro session is only $10 when you download and sign up using the MindBody app. Jump on in!