How should you use your hot tub?

The only thing to be gained during the last couple of weeks before a race is recovery from all the hard training you've done
Dear triathlon training gods:

My new health club has really nice facilities, including hot tub/whirlpools, dry sauna and steam rooms. I enjoy all of them.

The whirlpools feel especially good after a workout. But I've heard that the hot tub is precisely the wrong thing for sore muscles, and that I should use ice and stay away from the whirlpool.

So, is there a place in a well-designed triathlon training program for any or all of these facilities?

Fred Synk
43 years old
Middle-of-the-pack age grouper
Troy, Mich.

Dear Fred,

Youre absolutely correct. Hot tubs or whirlpools are not the best way to speed recovery after a long and hard training session (especially a run).

After one of these sessions your body tends to be battling inflammation or swelling of joints and muscles and, while its tempting to immerse your sore and tired body into the clubs hot tub with a beer, thats not the best way to enhance recovery.

A better option (but a lot less inviting) would be to soak those legs in cold water.

For example, after our local Tuesday run in San Diego, many of the triathletes drive down to the beach for a 10- to 15-minute leg soaking in the 58- to 65-degree water.

Its not the most comfortable thing to do, but the results (immediately after and especially the next day) are well worth it.

Not only is there an immediate decreased level of soreness but also, athletes find theyre better able to perform a given workout the next day.

If you dont have the convenience of an ocean, lake, or cool stream, you can still use cold water at the end of your shower to get similar benefits.

We dont know of any significant drawbacks to cold-water therapy, although the initial shock and discomfort can be significant, along with the occasional case of shrinkage (as documented on Seinfeld).

So here are a few suggestions for how you can best use the facilities in your new gym:

  • Never fully submerge ("synk") your head in the hot tub. Though the filtration and chlorination should prevent any problems, you never know whats growing in that warm water.

  • If you absolutely cant resist the soothing warm bubbles, try to wait 36 to 48 hours after your difficult training sessions before taking the soupy plunge.

  • If youre training in the early mornings, in particularly cold conditions, or are a bit stiff going into a workout, a short (less than five minutes) time in the hot tub, steam room, or sauna, can help to warm you up.

    That does not mean you can use this as your workout specific warm-up and you may require additional hydration as a result.

  • Along the same lines as the third point above, a hot tub, steam room or sauna can be a great aid to loosening up your muscles prior to stretching.

  • If youre going to get in the hot tub, regardless of what we tell you, try to at least cool off in the shower afterward.

    It may not have any deep impact on your muscles but it will help to close your pores and prevent you from extended post-hot tub sweating (and, hence, B.O.).

We dont know anyone who wouldnt rather get into a nice warm hot tub in any situation. There also arent too many people we know who enjoy a nice icy dip after any kind of exertion except, perhaps, Canadians, eh?

Its kind of like any workout, the hardest part is getting out the door or, in this case, in the cold water.

While a hot tub offers immediate gratification and does have its plusses, the advantages of cold water therapy after a hard or long workout outweigh the hot tub and are much longer lasting but youll be a social outcast (with a chance of shrinkage).

Train on,

Roch Frey and Paul Huddle

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