Hot Tub After Workout: How Runners Can Use A Hot Tub For Muscle Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, hot tubs are a fantastic post-workout recovery tool.
I know what you’re thinking though. Ice packs and cold water baths have been used for a long time, even recommended by coaches, physicians, and physical therapists.
But multiple studies have shown that heating, not cooling, accelerates muscle recovery.
Exciting right? I’ve always wanted a hot tub too. But before you go hunting for the perfect jacuzzi tub, let’s dive into the details of post-run muscle recovery.
The Cause Of Muscle Soreness
When we exercise, especially to the point of fatigue, our muscles experience tiny microtears.
These tiny tears in the muscle fibers are necessary in order to rebuild the muscles bigger and stronger. The reason we develop soreness following exercise is that as these microtears develop inflammation and when combined with decreased blood flow, our nervous system fires pain receptors.
Most people will think of ice when they hear the word “inflammation”, which is correct as ice is what will help decrease the inflammation. The problem with ice, in this case, is that it constricts blood vessels which limits blood flow.
This is where hot tubs become much more beneficial for post-workout recovery.
Health Benefits of Hot Tub Soaks For Post-Workout Muscle Recovery
1. Improves Circulation
Although heat is not going to help the symptom of inflammation, it will dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to the muscle.
This will help with the removal of lactic acid and other toxins and prevent more from building up in the muscle. This is also the reason why active recovery is a good choice when you are sore.
In order for the micro-tears in the muscle fibers to heal quickly, oxygen and nutrients need to make their way to the damage, and increased circulation will make this possible.
2. Blocks Pain
Research has shown that when the body is exposed to high temperatures (over 104 degrees), heat receptors are activated and pain receptors are blocked. This response is similar to the response when using pain medication.
Using a hot tub is actually a safer alternative than relying on pain pills.
3. Improves Stiffness
Following a hard run or workout session, muscles will feel tight, which is brought on by the buildup of lactic acid as well as inflammation.
Heat therapy increases the elasticity of collagen fibers, which is what improves joint range of motion. This is why it is advised to apply a hot pack on tight muscles before exercising.
Heat is also produced during an active warm-up routine, resulting in the same effect. Although this effect of using the hot tub to loosen muscle tension and improve joint motion is temporary, it can make all the difference before exercising.
4. Improves Heat Tolerance
Submerging in a hot tub is an extremely beneficial method to acclimate the body to hot temperatures.
During the summer months, where the temperature and humidity are at an all-time high, runners can give their bodies a head-start on getting used to the weather by spending 15 to 30 minutes a few times per week in the hot tub.
This will allow the body to sweat more and sooner, which decreases internal heat in the body, causing a lower workload on the heart. Some studies have also shown that using the hot tub for heat acclimatization before racing in hot and humid temperatures can help improve performance come race day.
5. Improves Sleep
It may be obvious, but hot baths have been proven to help people sleep more soundly.
Plus, adding a routine hot tub soak even if you do not work out, can help reinforce regular sleep cycles which have a lasting recovery effect.
How To Use A Hot Tub For Post Run Recovery
First, be sure to cool down. Immediately jumping into a hot jacuzzi isn’t advised, so take a moment to tackle these steps;
1. Get your heart rate down.
It’s not likely that the hot water will shock you but it’s important to manage your heart rate effectively. Take a breather before hitting the whirlpool.
The high-temperature water is going to dehydrate your body even more than it already is after a workout. Plus, by the time you finish a glass of water or two, your heart rate is going to be down enough to take the plunge.
3. Eat some protein.
Disregard what they say about waiting 30 minutes after eating. Your body needs 20-40 grams of protein to help give your muscles what they need to begin repairing the damage.
4. Optimize for relaxation.
Pick a relaxing music playlist, throw on noise-canceling (and waterproof) headphones, light a candle. Set yourself up for maximum relaxation for both your mind and body.
Using A Hot Tub Before A Workout
Taking a 10-20 minute soak before your run is a great strategy to both warm up your body and begin sweating, which is great for maximum calorie burn.
Any longer though, and you’re going to dehydrate your body too fast.
An Alternative Water Recovery Method To Test
Contrast Water Therapy (CWT) is another muscle recovery option that is currently being studied. This method requires you to alternate between periods of hot water and cold water, as the varying temperatures stimulate the contraction and dilation of blood vessels.
Early evidence shows that this method is better than passive recovery or just rest, but the jury is still out on whether alternating between hot and cold water immersion is better than just hot tub use.
Don’t Use A Hot Tub After Injury
The absolute wrong time to use any form of heat on the body is immediately following an injury or trauma.
This vasodilation will promote increased bleeding to the damaged area and the damage, in this case, is not the “good damage” that muscles go through during exercise. The heat can also increase inflammation, which is the opposite of what you want during this time.
The same goes for applying heat to open wounds. It is best to wait until several weeks after injuries to use a hot tub in order to be entirely out of the acute phase and inflammation is no longer an issue.
Final Tub Thoughts
So whether you’re an elite athlete or couch-to-5K runner, the benefits of a hot tub soak to improve your recovery process are undeniable.
With increased blood circulation your sore muscles will receive the attention they need, all while the secondary benefits help you relax.
So go, enjoy a good hot tub session. You deserve it after that intense workout.