The best answer to this question is – it depends on the timing. Many professional athletes say that soaking after vigorous exercise has the most benefits. Research backs up that claim up, if done this way – after sweating stops, muscles have cooled down and your heart rate has returned to normal, soaking in a hot tub decreases pain, and improves range of motion. Heat therapy stimulates healing by increasing blood flow and relaxing muscles.
However, in some instances it’s a good idea to soak before exercising. For example, if you are a runner, even if not training for a race, you can customize a strategy to maximize the benefits of your hot tub soaking. The warmth from a short soak beforehand can make you more relaxed and comfortable while running, especially on cold days. It also increases blood flow to the legs. After a run, the muscles are inflamed. This is the time to apply ice or cold water, not heat, that will keep muscles inflamed, and increase dehydrate.
General Rule – Ice First, Soak Later
Many exercisers relieve their aches and stiffness after a strenuous workout by icing. Then, in the next day or two soak in their hot tub for its rejuvenating and healing benefits. Studies show that therapies using both cold and heat do the best job of promoting healing and preventing muscle damage after exercising. Fortunately, today’s hot tubs have the option of being set up as a hot or cold soaking tub.
Of course, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor when creating a workout and recovery routine that’s best for your body. However, some generally accepted guidelines are as follows:
• Before exercising soak 5-15 minutes to loosen muscles and increase blood flow.
• Then stretch before starting to work out.
• After exercising cool down muscles and let your heart rate return to normal.
• Stimulate the recovery process with a warm jetted hot tub soak.
Cold Tub Therapy
Although it may give you chills just to think of it, advocates of cold tub therapy say it offers health benefits like improved circulation and a stronger immune system. The shock of cold water causes blood vessels to constrict and then expand once the body re-adjusts to its normal temperature, thus helping to rid the body of toxins, and resist colds and allergies. With the water as low as 60 degrees, 10-15 minutes sessions are spaced throughout the day, over several days.
Customizing a soaking routine that addresses your own body’s pattern of activity, stress and recovery, has the potential to improve your workouts and help you achieve your goal of a healthier body and lifestyle.