Hydrotherapy and Cortisol in a sports context

3 min readJul 30, 2023

(less stress = more muscle)

A few notes about myself to start out since this is my first post. I’ve had a healthy or not so healthy addiction to fitness for the majority of my life. I could think of worse things to be addicted to.

I fully intend to build a knowledge base on everything related to fitness that hopefully provides some value. For me, that spans everything from training methodologies, diet and food. I’m a certified fitness trainer, avid chef and actively practice metabolic conditioning (MetCon) programming.

As a tech CEO and avid reader/writer/nerd, this is my foray into something constructive on social media to combat my bad habit of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram reels watching people review burgers in their cars and rate them out of 10 :)

One realm that has intrigued me of late is hot / cold water exposure (hydrotherapy) and it’s direct correlation to fitness and recovery.

MetCon monkey in sauna

I recently witnessed the Portuguese football team reserve a room with an ice cold water tub at the gym I go to. Why?

As I scoured the web for scientific research related to hydrotherapy, I started to find more and more conclusive findings where studies point directly to a tendency towards decreased cortisol concentrations when hydrotherapy is employed.

Cortisol, better known as the stress hormone is an interesting hormone to study, to say the least. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like stress.

The more stressed we are, the higher the cortisol concentrations in your body. What I find fascinating is that it (cortisol) works against testosterone. Cortisol blocks anabolic signaling and protein synthesis. That doesn’t sound good for someone pursuing fitness goals or optimal health.

It would then be logical to try to mitigate the amount of excess cortisol and optimize anabolic signaling and protein synthesis. That’s how gainz are made!

It is important to note that a healthy balance of cortisol is required for proper function. Too much is not good…

I’m not going to get into the neuroscience and mental/brain layer which is another intriguing dimension to hydrotherapy, cortisol and this overall topic. I’ll leave that for guys like Dr. Huberman at Huberman Labs.

I’m just looking for ways to improve my performance as I now have exactly 6 days to get ready for a CrossFit challenge that I took on.

The things I do for a kick…

Here’s a breakdown of 3 simple and intriguing findings that I made on hydrotherapy:

  • Cortisol concentrations tend to decrease with hot/cold exposure (methodologies vary and that is a topic for another day)
  • Exposure to sauna and ice elevated performance in swimmers
  • In one specific study, steam baths decreased cortisol levels in athlete fighters

I like to keep things simple, use common sense and put things into action without being afflicted to paralysis by analysis. One of my gym buddies challenged me recently to stay in a hot sauna for exactly 15 minutes and then immerse myself in a cold shower right after. Rookie challenge, I know, but I felt awesome after.

Hydrotherapy has been used for centuries in ancient cultures for pain relief and is also known as the water cure. Hippocrates, the Greek physician (known as the father of medicine) recommended hydrotherapy centuries before Jesus was born. His doctrine was that the body contains the properties to heal itself.

No pills required.

I conclude that this practice warrants further study and practice. To be continued…