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.
If you haven't exercised in a long time, if you're overweight, or if you've never exercised at all, the prospect of joining a gym or going for a run can be overwhelming and just down right terrifying. We're here with top tips and advice for getting active as a complete beginner.
There's no better time than right now to change your life. If you've been thinking about getting started for a while but you've been putting it off or making excuses, you need to just start. There will always be a million reasons why you can't get out there, but it won't be until you've broken the ice that it becomes easier. Go ahead and join that gym or buy those running trainers.
Treating yourself to fresh activewear is a great way to get motivated and start you off in the right frame of mind. Having comfortable, proper gym tops rather than an old t-shirt and a stylish sports bra instead of your normal bra can be the difference between a terrible workout and a great one and will make you want to exercise so that you can show off your new fitness clothing!
You're already exercising more than you think
If you take your dog for walks or go walking at the weekend with your family, you have already made a great start! This is an easy base to improve upon, by making those dog walks longer and brisker, and by finding more challenging routes to walk at the weekend with your kids. If you take public transport to work, you perhaps have to walk to the station or from the bus stop to your office. Have confidence in yourself and make sure you know that mentally you're not going from complete scratch. This will make increasing your weekly exercise easier mentally.
Find a type of training you enjoy
There are so many ways to workout; you don't have to slog on a treadmill for hours or do some crazy manoeuvre that you saw someone else doing at the gym. Activities like yoga are very low impact and are a great way to build up your base fitness if you haven't moved in a while. Walking is also perfect as it's free and you can do it anywhere! If you do want to try running, you may benefit from group running as it takes the guess work out of it and will mean all you have to do is turn up and run. In the same light, there are many benefits of joining a running club such as companionship and making new friends.
Working out when you're overweight
It can seem very daunting to start exercising when you're overweight. If you're not ready to join a gym or hit the streets with a run, you can easily make a start in the comfort of your own home. Try a home workout that doesn't require any equipment and just uses body weight. By getting up and getting moving, you are making an excellent start.
When overweight, it's important not to put your joints under too much strain. Start with low impact movements like body weight squats, lunges, and sit ups. Go back to basics with a simple circuit training routine that gets your heart rate up without compromising your health and making you feel like your chest is going to explode!
If you are coming back from an injury or from having kids, you need to take it slow. There are lots of easy ways to exercise when you have kids, but getting back into it after giving birth can be a scary prospect. Take it slow and always listen to your body.
If you're looking to try a new sport, break it down into manageable chunks. Activities like cycling are much more accessible than you think and you don't need all the fancy gear to get out there. For something more complex like a triathlon, find a triathlon training plan for absolute beginners that you can follow which guides you through the training process and helps you understand what you need to do to succeed.
Make it enjoyable!
One of the biggest reasons why people give up on exercise is because they don't enjoy it. There is absolutely no reason why you need to be forcing yourself to go running or lift weights if you don't enjoy it. These days, there are unlimited ways to get fit from gym classes to dancing and it's all very accessible. There are some surprising ways to get fit like hula hooping and trampolining which are far more fun and enjoyable than pounding the pavements for mile after mile. If you enjoy your workout, you will be far more likely to continue the trend and stick to it.
Do you over-pronate when you run? Do your arches fall inwards and leave you prone to injury? Strengthening the right muscle groups can ward off injury and help you become a better runner. Try our strength workout designed specifically for runners who over-pronate and see the difference for yourself.
Banded Squats - 3 sets of 10 reps
Back squats are one of the best exercises you can do and will work the largest muscle group in the body – the legs and glutes. It's obvious that you need strong legs to be able to run efficiently, quickly, and tackle hills without issue. It's less obvious that a vast majority of people have weak glutes which let them down, and people who over-pronate when they run are especially likely to have weak glutes.
By adding a resistance band into your squats, you can train your knees outwards and really focus on working your glutes, which will encourage you to run with better form and therefore become less prone to injury.
Place your resistance band just above your knees and keep the tension throughout the entire squat. Make sure you drop low and then squeeze back up using your glutes. We recommend adding weight in the form of a barbell or dumbbells.
Pistol Squats - 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg
Pistol squats are a favourite of the CrossFit community and are notoriously difficult to execute fully. If you cannot do a full pistol squat, use a bench or a step and sit back onto that.
How to do a pistol squat:
- Stand with your back to a bench, a couple of inches in front of it.
- Hold your left leg up off the floor straight in front of you so that you are balancing on your right leg.
- Hold your arms out straight in front of you to help with balance.
- Slowly lower yourself down into a seated position on the bench using only the strength in your right leg.
- Gently tap down onto the bench – don't drop heavily or relax your muscles
- Use your glute muscles to stand back up.
That's 1 rep on 1 leg. Repeat 10 times then move onto the left leg.
Make sure you keep your knee aligned and don't let it fall inwards as you lower yourself onto the bench. Doing single leg exercises can improve any imbalances you may have which will prevent injury.
Banded Glute Bridges - 3 sets of 10 reps
This exercise isolates the glutes so that they are forced to work hard. As mentioned above, a lot of runners suffer from weak glutes which can lead to poor running form and inevitable injury. By strengthening your glutes, you will find your knees naturally start to rotate outwards and your arches will lift, which will reverse the effects of over-pronation.
How to do banded glute bridges:
- Place the resistance band just above your knees.
- Rest your upper back and shoulders onto the edge of a bench and bend your knees at a 90 degree angle with your feet flat on the floor hip width apart. You can use your arms to help you balance.
- Keeping your back straight and using the bench to pivot your body, lower your bottom towards the floor and then use your glutes to power back up.
- Keep your knees wide and squeeze against the resistance band.
That's 1 rep. You will immediately feel the burn! You can rest a weight on your hips to make this harder and see increased results.
Decline Sit-Ups - 3 sets of 10 reps
Although it's important to have strong legs and glutes to help you run with good form and offset the effects of natural over-pronation, it's also very important to incorporate core strengthening exercises into your weekly gym routine. Decline sit-ups are done using the decline bench. If your gym doesn't have one, you can do regular sit-ups on the floor.
Staying fit and active in winter takes a lot of motivation and it can be easy to succumb to hibernation mode and comfort food. Try this heart-pumping winter metcon workout to keep your fitness up this festive period.
Related: What Is A Metcon Workout?
Winter Metcon Workout
EMOM: Every Minute On the Minute | 10 minutes total |
- 5 burpees
- 15 kettlebell swings (men use 16kg, women use 10kg)
- 5 inch worms
- 10 press ups
- 10 jumping squats
- 20 mountain climbers
- 10 push press (men use 10kg medicine ball, women use 5kg)
- 20 stiff legged deadlifts (men use 12kg dumbbells, women use 8kg)
- 10 jumping lunges
- 10 star jumps
Rest for 5 minutes
AMRAP: As Many Reps As Possible | 5 minutes total |
- Jumping lunges – 60 seconds
- Clean and press – 90 seconds – 50% of your 1RM
- Deadlifts – 90 seconds – 70% of your 1RM
- Overhead press – 60 seconds –50% of your 1RM
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.