January 22, 2018

Post Workout Habits: Jacuzzi, Ice Bath, or Neither?

Jarrett Pflieger

You just had your hardest training session of the week, your muscles are screaming, and you need relief now! Nothing looks more appealing than the hot steam rising up from a hot tub, urging you to come take a dip and ease your pain.

Although a nice warm bath or Jacuzzi feels great after a hard training session, it may not be the best thing for your muscles. In fact, it may even put a damper in your recovery. After a hard workout, you actually damage your joints and muscles. No, not serious damage like an injury, but micro-trauma that causes your muscles to become inflamed and swollen. Your body healing from this is what allows you to adapt and become stronger, faster, etc.

The faster you can reduce this inflammation and swelling, the sooner you will recover and be ready for your next workout. The best way to do this is with cold, not hot. A cold- water bath following exercise is believed to reduce swelling and breakdown of tissue, constrict blood vessels, and flush out waste products from your muscles like lactic acid. Scientific studies are mixed on the subject, but athletes that use cold-water baths swear by it. We say cold water, and not ice water, because the water does not actually have to be ice cold to get the benefits. “Ice” water can actually be less effective than just “cold” water that is around 50-60 degrees. Plus, it is much more tolerable.

The time you should spend in the water varies in opinion. The most common duration is immersion for 10-14 minutes, but like most things, it probably varies depending on the individual. Just experiment with cold-water immersion in the bathtub, pool, ocean, etc. See how your legs feel the next day compared to what you felt like without cold-water therapy.

Another practice is to alternate cold and hot water for several cycles. For instance, try alternating one-to-two minutes cold, two minutes hot for around three cycles. Only submerge your legs and lower torso when trying any of these methods. It can be dangerous for your whole body to experience temperature change this rapidly. You should never try any of these methods without thoroughly cooling down after a workout for around 10-15 minutes. It is like putting hot metal in cold water, it just doesn’t mix well.

Try to experiment with some different techniques and record your results so you can go back, review your notes, and see what worked the best. One thing is for sure, the worst thing to do after a workout is to not cool down and just plop on the couch. You will take much longer to recover and will miss out on vital performance gain opportunities.

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