To soak or not to soak: avoid the hot tub post-workout

hot tub inflammation

hot tub inflammationWhile reading a recent question on running and post-workout dips in the hot tub, I learned some interesting things about how the body works. Some of these insights go against traditional notions. It seems like most people assume that after a long run, or bout of exercise, the most relaxing and beneficial thing to do is soak in a hot tub. But is that really true? Contrary to popular belief, you might not want to take that hot dip in the spa; instead, it might be more beneficial to soak in an ice tub. Yes, that’s correct – an ice bath!

The reason: When you go for a long run, or just finished a workout, your muscles are inflamed. You want to reduce inflammation, and sitting in a hot tub will do just the opposite. Instead, run a cold water bath and slowly immerse yourself in the cool water to adjust to the different temperature. Then, get someone to dump 5-10 pounds of ice, or more if you can handle it, into the tub with you. Spend around at least 5-10 minutes in the cold water, and your muscles will be set on a path to recover much better. This works for the same reason it’s wise to put ice on a pulled or torn muscle to help prevent excessive inflammation.

Personally, I’ll still opt for a soak in a hot tub after a day of skiing. I can’t imagine jumping into a cold water bath with a beer in hand; that just doesn’t seem pleasant at all. However, if you are training for a big race, or something more serious and you want a better way to promote healing and reduce inflammation, stay out of the spa!

You might be wondering why so many people seem to recommend soaking in the hot tub to relieve minor pain and inflammation having read this so far. Well, there is a good reason. For minor aches and pains, a daily routine of soaking in your hot tub will probably benefit you in the long term. This is because some inflammation is actually a good thing – when parts of your body get inflamed, it’s a natural healing reaction. The difference comes when you compare a major or more traumatic inflammation cause with minor ones. If you just went on a marathon run, you definitely don’t need to spur further inflammation; if you went on a two mile jog, a post-run soak might do you some good.

So the basic rule is that for chronic minor pains, daily hot tub soaks will result in good therapeutic results. If you have a more serious injury that’s already very inflamed, you should probably avoid making it worse with any more heat.