a contrast water therapy tub in a generated hotel image

I tried the UK’s first contrast water therapy spa bath. Here’s how it went

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Hot and cold water therapy has been used in wellness practices for centuries. But what are the benefits of a tub that combines the two?

First outlined by hydrotherapy pioneer Sebastian Kneipp in the 19th century, contrast water therapy is one of the oldest natural therapies in the world and has been practiced in various forms for many years (think saunas in Finland and cold-water swimming in Russia).

When ContraSpa by SpaFlo, the UK’s first hot and cold contrast therapy spa bath, arrived at the Bingham Riverhouse Hotel in Richmond, southwest London, I decided to head down to see what all the fuss was about.

Luckily, SpaFlo founder Richard Gowland was on site to guide me through the experience and explain what I was trying.

What is hot and cold water contrast therapy?

Simply put, hot and cold water therapy is the process of repeatedly moving the body, or isolated parts of the body, between hot and cold.

After seeing a rise in the demand for cold plunge pools, SpaFlo founder Richard saw a gap in the market to harness the benefits of contrast water therapy.

Inspired by Kneipp’s work and his dedication to harnessing water therapy for restoration and wellbeing, Richard tried to build on his achievements with ContraSpa — a yin-yang shaped, stainless steel hot and cold therapy tub.

Woman's face poking up through sea water
Hot and cold water therapy has been performed throughout history
What are the benefits of hot and cold contrast therapy?

“Regular contrast water therapy users may boost their immunity, aid rehabilitation from injuries, support muscle recovery, and some suggest it can boost your metabolism too,” says Richard.

Many people also use it to enhance their sleep and support their mental wellbeing or to help with conditions such as high blood pressure and altitude sickness.

When you submerge your body in cold water, small blood vessels called capillaries respond to the cold by shrinking, in a process known as vasoconstriction. And when you immerse yourself in warm water, the capillaries open wider — vasodilation.

Richard explains: “Cold water causes the heart rate to speed up, while warm water causes it to slow down, and this contrast helps to increase blood flow and circulation.”

Professional athletes have been using cold water therapy and contrast therapy as part of their training and wellness regime for years.

“The idea is to force your tissues to adapt to the sudden changes, which has a stimulatory effect and requires a lot of metabolic and circulatory activity. Contrasting constitutes a gentle tissue workout: stimulation without stress on the injured part, strong sensations of heat and cold without movement, all of which may be helpful for a body part that needs rest while it heals,” says Richard.

ContraSpa by SpaFlo tub pictured on decking outdoors
ContraSpa by SpaFlo, the UK’s first hot and cold contrast therapy spa bath
My experience

Having never experienced cold water therapy or anything of the sort, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at Bingham Riverhouse.

Once I got over the initial embarrassment of awkwardly clambering into a stainless steel yin-yang-shaped tub in front of strangers, I immersed myself quickly in the cold water side — a seven-degree Celsius plunge that I was wholly unprepared for.

Apparently, the professional Olympian who went before me hopped in and submerged his entire body and head straight away. Richard had advised me against this — not that I had any plans to anyway.

Surpassing pain completely, something entirely new and far worse shot through my body — the immediate desperation to get out.

But my determination to experience the treatment to as full effect as possible kicked in. After 10 seconds, my ankles felt like they were going to spontaneously crack open, but with Richard’s encouragement I lasted 20 full seconds.

Once in the hot side, the utter bliss of a 37-degree bath was enough to make me wish I could spend all day in it. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing the intended feeling, but I was relieved and calmer for sure.

Another 20 seconds in the cold side and the pain multiplied tenfold. But this time when I got back into the hot side, I felt a warm, tingly, vibrational pull in my hands, arms and legs. Admittedly, I felt good and my body less tense, lighter even — a striking feeling of calmness.

Though I’m in no rush to jump into freezing-cold water again, I’ve come away with an understanding of what it is that makes hot and cold water immersion a worthwhile therapy practice.

The result is an undoubtedly unique wellness experience — an invigorating plunge that I could imagine regular users might find soothes the stresses and strains of everyday life.

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