You've certainly seen photos and videos of athletes grimacing in an ice bath after a tough training session or a race, but is it actually beneficial? And is it right for you? We take a look at whether it's best to take a hot or cold shower after exercise.
Benefits of a cold shower after exercise
There are many benefits of applying cold water or ice to the body after it has experienced stress and strain, such as after a workout or race. Being cold makes your blood vessels contract which prevents swelling and bruising. It also numbs your nerve endings which provides you with instant pain relief. This is why we use ice packs when we get injured.
Exercise inflames the body and inflammation is never a good thing. Cold water acts as an anti-inflammatory and can help you to recover quicker after a workout. A very cold shower or ice bath could also reduce the DOMS (aching muscles) you experience after a workout as it speeds up the recovery process and helps the muscles to repair.
Why do athletes use ice baths?
Studies have shown that immersing yourself in an ice bath reduces the inflammation and swelling experienced after exercise. When you train, your muscles develop micro tears which is what then stimulates them to repair and grow stronger. Exposure to extreme cold such as that of an ice bath can help to repair these tears and speed up the recovery process.
There are many athletes around the world who use ice baths after a match or workout. GB heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill is even known to stand in a wheelie bin full of ice to help her legs recover!
Benefits of a hot shower after exercise
Some more premium gyms offer steam rooms, saunas, and hot tubs for after your workout. While this may seem like it's just to relax, there could be some benefit to it. While exposure to cold reduces your blood flow and constricts blood vessels, exposure to heat does the opposite. So spending 20 or so minutes in a sauna post workout will increase the blood flow to your muscles. This can help to disperse any built up lactic acid and release it from the muscles. Not only this, hot water and steam relax your muscles and relieve body tension which can be perfect for unwinding after a furious workout.
They call the third Monday in January 'blue Monday' because it seems that the poor weather, debt accumulated over Christmas, failing our New Year's resolutions and low motivational levels can leave us feeling at our lowest ebb. Here are 5 things you can do right now to pick yourself up and instantly feel better this January.
1. Get moving
It may seem obvious, but regular exercise will always be at the top of the list when it comes to getting out of a slump and making yourself feel better. The wonderful thing about exercise is that it releases 'happy' hormones known as endorphins and so even if you're working on 4 hours sleep and feeling rotten from a common cold, doing some exercise – even just something light – will instantly make you feel better.
Get out and go for a jog or a walk to brush off the cobwebs and get your heart beating. You'll enjoy that famous 'runner's high' and it will also help to relax you and work off any frustrations you may be holding on to.
Read more: Benefits Of Outdoor Training
2. Call a relative
Many of us don't enjoy being forced to spend time with relatives over Christmas, but January can end up being a lonely time if we distance ourselves from everyone around us. Give your parents or siblings a quick phone call to check in on them; if you're feeling low, maybe they are too and hearing your voice will pick them up. We often take our close family for granted, so it's important to check in from time to time.
3. Eat your vegetables
All of the sugar, fat, salt, and alcohol that you've consumed over the festive period won't be doing your physical or mental well-being any good and chances are you haven't been keeping up your fruit and vegetable intake (Brussels sprouts aside). Make a conscious effort to eat more fruit and vegetables throughout January to top up your micro-nutrients and give your body the best chance at recovering and helping you feel good.
Read more: Which Vitamins Should I Be Taking?
4. Take a Vitamin D supplement
On the same note as the previous point, keeping your Vitamin D levels topped up is vital throughout winter months. Taking a Vitamin D supplement can help to boost your mood instantly as well as reducing the likelihood of catching common colds and the flu as it will give your immune system a well needed boost.
How often do you take time to slow down and focus on yourself? Getting back to work after the Christmas break can be a real shock to the system and suddenly you have a million things back on your to-do list and 250 unread emails in your inbox. Add this to the stresses of home life and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Take some time to meditate, whether this is 5 minutes in the morning or 20 minutes in the evening before bed, it will all make a difference.
Read more: What Are The Health Benefits Of Meditation?
If you've been training hard but not sure whether you're getting fitter, you need to do a fitness test. But there are so many out there, which one is best? We take a look at 3 different fitness tests as a way to track your fitness.
The Astrand Treadmill VO2 Max Test
This test is fairly advanced and is good for people who are already fit and active and would like a quantitative assessment of their fitness that they can compare to others. This VO2 Max Test is a universal test, so you could have all your friends or club members do it and compare your results.
For this test, you will be jogging on a treadmill. Start with the treadmill at a gradient of 0% and a speed of 8km/h. After three minutes, increase the incline to 2.5% (keep the speed the same throughout the entire test). After another 2 minutes, increase the incline by another 2.5% and repeat every 2 minutes until you cannot run anymore. Write down the time you finish.
In order to get your results, input your time into the following equation:
(Time x 1.44) + 14.99
For example, say you are a 35 year-old male and you make it to 15 minutes and 15 seconds. That is 15.25 minutes, so you would calculate:
15.25 x 1.44 = 21.96
21.96 + 14.99 = 36.95
Therefore, your VO2 Max would be 36.95
To find out how your score stacks up, use the following charts:
So our example 35 year-old male who got a score of 36.95 is at a 'fair' level of fitness. He could follow a training regime for a number of weeks and then repeat the test to see in clear numbers if his fitness has increased or not.
This test is fairly advanced and is not suitable for pregnant women, those who cannot run, or those with health conditions.
Chair Sit Test
Dr Michael Mosley has been making waves recently with his BBC programme 'The Truth About Getting Fit'. In his programme, Dr Mosley showed one way you can easily test your fitness in the comfort of your own home and it's suitable for people of all ages. The test simply asks how long it takes you to sit down in a chair and get back up again 10 times. Men under 35 should be able to do it in under 10 seconds, with women under 35 aiming for under 12 seconds. Men aged 35-55 should be able to do it in 13 seconds with women aiming for 15, and people over 55 should be able to do it in under 19 seconds.
This is obviously a very broad and unspecific test, but if you live a sedentary lifestyle and are looking for somewhere to start, this is an easy test to give you an idea of where you stand.
Vertical Jump Test
Our final test is different yet again. This time, we are testing the power in the legs, which is another great way to test fitness. If you want to be fit all-round, you need to have strength, power, and stamina. The vertical jump test is very easy and you only need one thing: a measuring tape.
Stand next to a wall, and jump as high as you can while reaching upwards. Have a friend mark the wall where you managed to touch, and then measure the height. This is your score.
Why is it important to do fitness testing?
There are several reasons why you may want to do a fitness test. You may feel like you live a healthy lifestyle, but there is no way for you to know for sure until you do a fitness test. If you live a largely sedentary lifestyle, your health could be at risk, so doing a fitness test could help to determine whether you need to get more active.
For those who are already very active, doing a fitness test is a great way to see if your training and hard work is paying off and you are actually progressing. If you see that you are not, you will know to change up your exercise regime so that you do get fitter.
Of course, it always depends on your goals, so make sure you set some goals first before you embark upon a fitness journey.
The weather is certainly feeling colder, but that doesn't mean exercise has to move inside. Training outdoors has lots of great benefits. Sundried ambassador Heather Taylor gives us a list of the extra benefits you gain when exercising outside during winter.
It’s good for your mind and your body
A large study found that outdoor exercise is associated with increased energy and revitalisation, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared to exercising indoors. Outdoor participants also reported enjoying their workouts more and said they were more likely to repeat them than participants who trained inside.
It may make you feel better about yourself.
No need to feel self conscious outside, regular outdoor exercise has been proven to boost your self esteem.
Soak up the sunshine benefits (even in winter)
When the sun hits the skin, it creates vitamin D3 which is important for bone health and metabolic function. Extra exposure to sunlight during the day can also help you sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase endorphin production.
You can burn more calories when you exercise outside
Resistance to the wind when running or cycling outdoors means you often burn more calories than if you were indoors and hills/uneven ground make your body work harder as it has to respond to the unknown.
So there's a few reasons to put on a few extra layers and keep moving. Why not take a look at Sundried's range of winter activewear to kit you out for the winter months? Such as compression base layers, hoodies, and long-sleeved training tops.
About the author: Heather Taylor is a personal trainer, triathlete, and Sundried triathlete.
For a lot of people, training 20 hours a week for an Ironman is completely unrealistic, and even running 40 miles per week to train for a marathon is a stretch. We look at different ways you can realistically fit exercise into your busy life.
1. Activate your commute
If you work full time, especially if you also have kids, it can feel impossible to find time to exercise. One easy way to add exercise into your day is by making your commute more active. If you get the train or bus, try getting off one or two stops early and walking the rest of the way. If you drive, you can try parking further away and walking the last mile or so.
This will only add around 15 minutes to your commute and the benefits will be immense. Sitting at a desk all day isn't good for your health, so by adding more exercise into your day you will offset the negative side effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
2. Get active at lunch time
Sometimes it can feel like you never have a moment to yourself and that you're busy all the time. Identifying times during the day when you can squeeze in some 'me time' and exercise is very valuable. One such time is lunch time.
You could go for a walk or even a run or a bike ride to maximise your free time and add in some important exercise to an otherwise sedentary day. Some people who work in large office blocks even change into their activewear to walk/run up and down the stairs at lunch time! This is a great way to get the heart pumping and the legs burning without even having to leave your building. Especially ideal if the weather doesn't allow for outdoor fitness.
3. Get up earlier
Another easy way to make time for exercise is by getting up slightly earlier so that you can workout before work. Even just an extra hour in the morning can facilitate a good workout and this will leave you feeling pumped, fresh, and ready to tackle whatever the day has in store for you.
Not only will a morning workout leave you feeling good for the rest of the day, it also means you can then get on with whatever you need to do without stressing about finding time to workout later on. You're also far less likely to skip a morning workout because you don't have all day to think about it and find excuses.
4. Skip the conveniences
Our modern world has been designed to make everything as easy as possible. We take the elevator instead of the stairs and we might take a cab for only a short journey. If this sounds like you, then adding exercise into your day can be easy by skipping the conveniences and taking the stairs or walking instead of taking public transport.
Especially if you live and/or work in a big city, everything is close enough that you can walk without needing to take a taxi or a bus. Yes, your journey might be a few minutes longer, but it'll be worth it in the end! Plus, busy cities tend to have lots of traffic anyway so sometimes walking is quicker than driving or taking the bus!
5. Find an active hobby
Many of us are guilty of complaining about how busy we are but then spending a lot of time in front of the TV or scrolling through endless news feeds on our phones. Swap these bad habits for active hobbies such as gardening or DIY. It doesn't have to be anything overly strenuous, but these sorts of activities can be hugely calming and reduce stress and anxiety.
This will also give your free time a lot more meaning and you'll feel much better. You may even find you sleep better with reduced exposure to screens and more time outdoors.