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.
My experience in triathlon so far, like everyone, has come with ups and downs. From achieving race times that shocked me during the high moments to long frustrating months recovering from injury (or in my case... not recovering). What started as mild Achilles tendonitis over a year ago led to plantar fasciitis, giving me pain even when resting. While these injuries have been far from terrible, there is nothing more disheartening for an athlete than not being able to push your body in the build up to race season.
It has taken a lot of reflection to find the root of the problem. For me, this has become a game of trial and error and going back to form and recovery basics, which I would have preferred to avoid. As I start to feel like my rehab and physiotherapy are beginning to pay off, I grow confident for the future but I have come to realise that there are so many different factors that impact recovery time. As far as I can tell, these break down into at least 3 main factors: strength and conditioning, rest (or not too much), stretching, and consistency of all these things with no excuse.
I have taken to the gym with my coach more than ever this year in order to build the strength essential for the body to handle the workload demanded from endurance sport. But with every muscle that gains strength there is another in danger of being neglected. It is important that we train correctly in order for another muscle group not to be left behind when the workload is intensified. While we know that all muscles work in groups and rely on each other when the going gets tough, it is easy to neglect a certain area in the gym. Many painful niggles come from certain joints such as the ankle. This could be from not strengthening areas around the ankle while continuing to load the calves during achilles rehab.
One area which highlighted my ignorance was my assumption that rest and rest alone would mean I can just jump back into the deep end once I felt some discomfort lift. In fact, I experienced quite the opposite. Before a two-week break to Asia I had convinced myself that this would give me the break I needed to allow my body to recover. To my surprise, my injury actually worsened during the break. It became apparent that without my calf raises and foot stretching the injury simply returned. When I returned home, I began running again and the pain the following day was a lot less noticeable than on days where I had neglected rehab exercises and running altogether. Consistency again proving to be everything in both training and rehab alike.
I’m sure there is no need for me to tell you that it is important to stretch after any form of exercise, however many of us do not get near enough stretching done to help fight the inevitable lactic acid brought on by the miles of pavement we cover. A foam roller really is an athlete's best friend as we can't all be provided with a personal physio like those on the screen. A good part of every evening, whether you've put in a hard session or enjoyed a rest day, should be spent in front of the soaps accompanied by the roller and your stretch routine. This means getting closer to those toes week by week for those inflexible guys and girls like myself. It has been highlighted that my range of flexibility as well as my low run cadence have had huge input into my current injuries.
Injury has been an unwelcome accomplice for the vast majority of athletes from every level and ability at some point in their sporting journey. At times this has led to serious frustration and doubts about my ability to achieve the goals I’ve set after finding love for triathlon. But with every setback comes hunger and with every slow run drives the determination to re-find form and smash P.Bs... be it this year, the next or in 2 years time. We have to remind ourselves that our goals will always be achievable if our mind is stronger than our ability. Sport takes patience and mental strength. This is the first thing we learn attempting an endurance sport and it's equally relevant in reaching the future perception of ourselves.
About the author: Luke Elgar is a triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Stretching is vital to being healthy and reducing the risk of injury as well as helping you to achieve pain-free runs. If you run a lot, you need to make sure you are stretching in the right places so that you can perform at your best and not be brought down by preventable injuries. Try these four stretches which are perfect for runners and will keep you nimble and flexible throughout your training.
Pigeon stretch (for the hip flexors and glutes)
One of the most neglected parts of the body when it comes to stretching is the hips. They go through a lot of stress and strain when we run and weak or tight hips can cause any number of running injuries such as IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, or even sciatica. Make sure you stretch your hips by doing this stretch in order to release any tension, and to also get a great stretch through the glutes which also take a hammering during running!
Kneel on the floor or on a yoga mat. Stabilise yourself by placing your hands flat on the floor either side of you, then bend your right leg so that the thigh is straight out in front of you and the lower leg is bent at a right angle. Stretch your left leg out behind you so that the knee and foot are facing the floor. Make sure to keep the hips square and relax into the stretch. You will feel it in the glute of the bent leg and the hip flexor of the straight leg. Relax and breathe into the stretch for anywhere between 30-90 seconds. After this time, slowly swap legs.
Downward dog (for the calves, hamstrings, and back)
The calves are another area that tend to get neglected but really take a pounding when we run. Especially if you are a little heavier, your calves are taking a lot of weight and strain when you run and muscular tension could build up very easily. Your back is another body part which can be difficult to stretch properly, but a sore and aching back could be the difference between a great run and a painful one. Try this classic yoga stretch to feel a great stretch right down the backs of the legs as well as the entirety of the back.
Place your hands flat on the floor and walk your legs back. Straighten your arms and your legs so that your body resembles a triangle. Try your best to keep your heels on the floor, if you can’t, move your feet closer to your hands. Push hard through the palms of your hands to really feel the stretch through the back, and push down through your heels to feel the lovely stretch through the calves and hamstrings.
Forward fold (for the hamstrings)
After a particularly long or tough run, you may well feel your hamstrings are incredibly tight. When we run, our legs bend up behind us and the hamstrings have to work very hard. Combine this with a lot of sitting down at work and you have a recipe for very short, tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can lead to posture issues, a sore back, and other running-related injuries. Try this stretch to really elongate the hamstrings and look after this very important running muscle.
Start in a standing position with your feet as close together as possible. Slowly bend forward until your hands touch the floor. Take a big deep breath in, and as you exhale, bend forward a little more. Repeat this three or four times until you can get your hands flat on the floor. Keep your knees locked and straight, if they want to bend, lift your upper body a little. Hold this pose for up to 30 seconds. If you cannot touch the floor at first, keep practising until you can!
Wide angle seated forward bend (for the hip flexors and inner thighs)
Our final stretch is another great one for the hip flexors as well as the inner thighs. If you do gym work to supplement your running, there’s a good chance you will get tight inner thighs from moves like squats and lunges. This move will really help you to open up your hips and stretch right through the legs so that you don’t get pain while running.
Sit on the floor and open your legs as wide as you can. Slowly lean forward as far as you can while reaching your hands forward and walking your fingertips away from you. As with the previous stretch, take a big deep breath in and then as you exhale, lean forwards a little more. Repeat this three of four times and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. See if you can lean all the way forwards to touch your head on the floor. This is something to aim for in practice!
Whether you’re training for a marathon or you just enjoy running recreationally, blisters can be the one thing that stop you in your tracks. Don’t let that be the case by following our handy tips to prevent blisters from forming when you run.
Wear the right socks
Your socks are your first line of defence against blisters. Any good pair of running socks will be super moisture-wicking and have extra padding around stress areas like the heel and toes. Keeping your feet dry is paramount to preventing blisters as moist skin will become soft and therefore more susceptible to blisters. If your socks wick sweat away properly, your feet should stay dry no matter how sweaty your feet get during the run! If you find you are getting lots of blisters, it could be time to try different socks.
Make sure your shoes fit properly
Wearing the correct shoes is paramount for happy and healthy running. Our feet swell as we run, and continue to swell the longer we're out, so you need to make sure your shoes give your feet room to breathe. A pair of running shoes that fit well while you're stationary might become tight and uncomfortable after 10 miles of running and sweat build-up. However, if your shoes are too big then they may rub, causing even worse blisters.
Make sure your trainers are properly comfortable and are the exact right size for your needs. Most good running shops will have a treadmill on site which you can use to try out the shoes before you buy them so make sure to take advantage of this.
Use blister plasters preventatively
Plasters and band aids don’t have to be a last resort once you’ve already got horrendous blisters. Most blister plasters are designed to act like a second skin, so by applying them to problem areas before you run, you minimise the risk of them developing at all.
Once you know where your problem areas are, put blister plasters on before you run to prevent blisters from forming. However, if you are wrapping cotton or fabric plasters around the toes, be aware that these may well rub and cause new blisters of their own. Try to keep fabric a minimum by not taping your feet and only use specifically-designed blister plasters which are minimalistic in design and fit seamlessly.
Many runners already know that Vaseline is your best friend to prevent chafing. Many blisters are caused by friction, whether that be skin on skin or fabric on skin. By applying a generous amount of Vaseline to any problem areas of the foot (or other part of the body), you will reduce the friction and therefore reduce your risk of developing blisters.
Be aware the Vaseline can be liable to stain clothing, especially running clothing. There are other dedicated creams and gels on the market, but these can be expensive and Vaseline will do the job just as well.
Keep your feet moisturised
While it's true that overly moist feet are very prone to blisters due to the skin becoming soft, dry feet are also prone to injuries. Dry feet can easily crack and even become infected, so keep your feet moisturised on days when you are not running by using a specialist foot moisturiser. If you are going to be running a lot, taking good care of your feet is very important and well worth the time and money!
Having to stop your training due to illness can be very frustrating, but what can be just as frustrating is not being able to get back into it once you're healthy again. We look at the best ways to get back into running after an illness.
Make sure you're completely healthy
The first thing to think about before you get back into your training is whether you are completely healthy. Make sure you don't rush back into your running before you are totally well again as this could take you backwards and make your illness flare back up. Whether it was just a common cold or something more serious, make sure you are definitely back to 100% health before you dive back in and put your body under stress.
It may well be tempting to dive straight back in and pick up where you left off, but this is not a good idea. You might have been running long distances or doing tough interval training before you got ill, but now you need to take it easy and build back up. Your body won't be up to what it was before, not only because your immune system has taken a hit, but because you've now had time off too. Start slow and don't be in a rush to get back to where you were otherwise you may cause yourself another injury.
Listen to your body
Don't ever push through pain when you're running. If you're coming back from an injury, pay extra attention to the body part that was injured and as soon as you feel a little niggle, stop your training. There are plenty of ways to stay in shape when you're injured so you don't need to rush back into your training before you're fully better. If it was something more like a cold or the flu, pay attention to things like headaches, and stop if you get one.
Related: How To Stay In Shape When Injured
Focus on your eating
You need to nourish your body and make sure you're getting all the required vitamins and minerals that will help you to recover quicker and boost your immune system. If you're coming back from a cold, the added strain of exercising could delay your recovery times and your body will need more nutrients than usual to recover. Eat plenty of fresh, healthy foods and avoid processed foods and junk foods as these will affect your training and recovery.
Related: Which Vitamins Should I Be Taking?
Get plenty of rest
The final point but perhaps the most important! Getting plenty of rest and enough hours of good quality sleep each night will be paramount to you being back to your old self and being able to train to your full potential. It can be frustrating feeling like you've taken steps backwards in your training, but treating your body right and getting plenty of rest is the best way to get there, rather than overdoing it.
Related: Why Is Sleep Important For Recovery?