Restoration Methods – Contrast Shower

Back in 2000, I had a chance to spend some time with Dr. Mel Siff at his ranch in Colorado. He shared with me many secrets on advanced recovery techniques. Here are a few of the points he mentioned on contrast hydrotherapy methods:

  • Always start with hot and end with cold unless you plan to go to sleep afterwards, in which case you should end with hot.
  • The duration of each stimulus should be 1-5 minutes, but the body will adapt to this variable so you must vary it each time.
  • The body should be almost completely submerged (Dr. Siff had an 8-foot deep Jacuzzi for this purpose), and motion is desirable particularly in the cold modality (e.g., swim in an unheated pool or roll around in snow).
  • The temperature must be appropriate – hot should be very hot (up to 110 degrees F) and cold should be cold (as low as 60 degrees F).
  • Repeat the process 3-4 times.

According to Siff, “it is not simply the temperature of a given modality, but also the level of difference between hot and cold temperatures, and the time spent at each temperature that determines how one should use contrast methods.” He claimed that the strategy worked very well with Russian lifters and that he also used it successfully with his American athletes.

Believe me, the strategy does work quite well. After performing countless sets of Olympic lifts, I had the pleasure to experience Siff’s lovely contrast method with founder, Dave Tate. Picture Tate and I jumping from an 8-foot deep Jacuzzi where there were handle bars on the side to hold you up and the temperature was set at 110º F to a 62º F swimming pool where we did a few laps. Talk about contrast! And this was all done after midnight. Needless to say, we slept like babies that night!

Dr. Siff is no longer with us, but his methods live on. A great way to incorporate contrast hydrotherapy into a busy schedule is with the use of contrast showers.

For contrast showers, follow the advice of one of the best sprint coaches of all time, Charlie Francis: Do 3 minutes as hot as you can stand followed by 1 minute as cold as you can stand repeated 3 times for best results. It’s important to cover the whole body though, including the head.

This practice will make a big difference in your recovery. Trust me! The key is the level of difference between hot and cold temperatures as well as varying the time spent at each temperature. And for the most part, you should end with cold. As Nelson Montana explains in The Bodybuilding Truth, finishing off a shower with cold water will naturally increase testosterone and stimulate the nervous system:

It comes from one of the forefathers of modern bodybuilding, Angelo Siciliani, better known as Charles Atlas. Did you know that the excessive heat from a hot shower can lower your sperm count? In fact, the Aztec Indians used this as a form of birth control (don’t ask). Anyway, Charlie recommends finishing off your shower with cold water. Allow the cold water to flow from the solar plexus onto the genitals. The belief was that these areas contain the highest concentration of nerve endings. Therefore, the cold would stimulate the nerves, which in turn strengthened the entire nervous system. “Stimulate” is certainly the operative word here. I can attest to its effect because I’ve been doing this for some time now. It takes a little getting used to, but it sure is an eye opener!

Tomorrow we’ll look at another effective restoration method, stretching.

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