Runners often hear about the benefits of sitting in an ice bath after a workout—if they can muster the grit—but what about getting in a hot tub after a workout?
Does jumping in the hot tub after a workout boost recovery? Are there benefits of soaking in a jacuzzi after workouts?
And, if you do decide to use hot water therapy, is it better to soak in a hot tub before or after workouts?
In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of sitting in a hot tub after a workout, as well as whether it’s better to embrace the jacuzzi after your workout or before your workout.
We will cover:
- Does Soaking In a Hot Tub After a Workout Boost Recovery?
- 8 Benefits of Soaking In a Hot Tub After a Workout
- Is It Better to Use a Hot Tub Before Or After a Workout?
- 3 Tips for Using a Hot Tub After Exercising
Let’s jump in!
Does Soaking In a Hot Tub After a Workout Boost Recovery?
Soaking in a hot tub is a type of moist heat therapy that transfers heat to the skin via convection.
Any type of heat therapy, which is also known as thermotherapy, can be beneficial for tissues, but according to research, the effects of moist heat therapy (such as sitting in a hot tub) set in more rapidly and may be up to 25% more effective than dry heat modalities like dry heating pads.
Although it’s typically more common to hear about the potential recovery benefits of post-workout ice baths or applying ice packs to sore muscles, multiple studies have demonstrated that heat therapy accelerates muscle recovery, potentially even more so than cryotherapy (cold therapy).
One review found that both ice and heat therapy were effective at reducing the severity of muscle soreness following exercise, as long as the cold therapy or heat therapy was applied within one hour after finishing the workout.
There was no significant difference between the results for either heat or ice.
Another study found that heat improved recovery, whereas ice actually delayed or compromised healing and recovery due to the fact that ice limits healthy inflammation and reduces the metabolic activity of the tissue.
8 Benefits of Soaking In a Hot Tub After A Workout
There are quite a few benefits of soaking in a hot tub, many of which apply to using a hot tub after a workout.
Benefits of post-workout hot tub usage include the following:
#1: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Increases Circulation
People often turn to ice for post-workout recovery due to the anti-inflammatory benefit, but the inflammation process is actually a vital step in muscle repair and tissue healing.
When you exercise, particularly when you do an intense or vigorous workout, your muscles sustain microscopic damage or small tears in the muscle fibers. This is a normal part of the process of muscle building.
The damaged fibers signal the body to begin the process of myofibrillar protein synthesis, which strengthens your muscle fibers by adding new proteins in areas of damage.
The process of myofibrillar protein synthesis requires resources like amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, as well as oxygen and other nutrients that aren’t already on site in the muscles.
They have to be delivered to your muscles through the circulatory system.
The inflammation in your muscle after a hard workout occurs because extra blood and lymph-carrying nutrients, oxygen, white blood cells, and reparative proteins are shuttled to your muscle fibers to start nourishing and repairing damaged cells.
By constricting blood vessels with ice, blood flow to the muscles is impeded.
Although this does reduce inflammation, in doing so, it partially blocks the stream of nutrients and reparative cellular components to repair and rebuild the muscles.
Hyperperfusion, or increased blood flow to the muscles after a hard workout, is also a necessary step for flushing out excess metabolic and cellular waste.
Carbon dioxide, acidic compounds, and damaged cells are removed by the blood and lymph.
Here again, by occluding the blood vessels with ice and decreasing blood flow into and out of the muscles, both the delivery and removal of nutrients and waste are inhibited.
In contrast, the application of heat increases circulation.
Jumping in a hot tub after a workout can promote blood flow to and from exercised muscles to repair damage and clean up debris.
#2: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Decreases Muscle Soreness
One of the primary recovery benefits of sitting in a hot tub after a workout is that thermotherapy can help ease and prevent muscle soreness.
#3: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Decreases Pain
Research has demonstrated that applying heat to the body activates heat receptors and blocks pain receptors.
Rather than using pain medicines, sitting in a hot tub after a workout can be a healthier way to elicit a similar pain-relieving response.
#4: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Decreases Stiffness
One of the primary benefits of using a hot tub before exercise— although the benefits are also helpful after exercise—is that soaking in hot water can decrease joint and muscle stiffness and promote mobility.
In much the same way that a dynamic warm-up or active recovery modality heats up your tissues, increases the elasticity of collagen fibers, and promotes a greater range of motion, soaking in a hot tub before or after a workout can increase tissue pliability and mobility.
Heat increases circulation and loosens tight or contracted connective tissues and muscle fibers.
#5: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Burns Additional Calories
Although you will likely burn far more calories during your workout, studies show that soaking in a hot tub increases metabolic rate and can burn more calories than you would otherwise burn at rest.
For example, one study demonstrated that soaking in a bath of waist-high hot water for one hour burned as many calories as a 30-minute walk.
If your goal is fat loss, soaking in a hot tub after your workout may help accelerate your results by keeping your metabolism revved up even though you’re technically resting.
#6: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Can Improve Sleep
Soaking in a hot tub can be very relaxing for the body and mind.
Some people find that soaking in a hot tub after exercise can promote better sleep, especially if you work out in the evening or take a nap after your soak.
#7: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise Increases Heat Tolerance
Running in the heat can impair performance, especially if your body isn’t acclimated to the high temperatures.
If you soak in a hot tub after exercising year-round, you can help your body acclimatize to hot temperatures as summer approaches.
After a long winter and mild spring, runners’ bodies are often completely unprepared for running in the heat and humidity of summer training.
Soaking in a hot tub for 15-20 minutes after a workout every day can help your body adapt to the heat by initiating the sweating response earlier and more effectively.
This can translate to better heat tolerance when you’re running.
#8: Soaking In a Hot Tub After Exercise May Improve Cardiovascular Health
There is some evidence to suggest that soaking in a hot tub may improve cardiovascular health by improving endothelial function, decreasing arterial stiffness, increasing heart rate, and decreasing blood pressure.
Although exercise can elicit similar cardiovascular responses, these benefits can potentially be augmented by soaking in a jacuzzi after working out.
Is It Better to Use a Hot Tub Before Or After a Workout?
In most cases, soaking in a hot tub can be beneficial before and after a workout.
Depending on your fitness goals and needs, it may be better to use a hot tub before or after exercise.
Soaking in a hot tub before exercise can elicit physiological responses similar to a warm-up.
Benefits of a pre-workout hot tub soak include increasing heart rate, circulation, tissue mobility, and metabolism, all of which help prepare your body for physical activity. Soaking in a hot tub after exercise can promote recovery by facilitating circulation and the removal of waste products, relaxing muscles, and decreasing pain.
3 Tips for Using a Hot Tub After Exercising
#1: Drink Plenty of Water
The key to maximizing the benefits of hot tubs for exercise recovery or preparation is to make sure you’re staying fully hydrated before, during, and after soaking in the hot tub.
By nature, hot tubs increase sweating, but it can be hard to notice how much you’re sweating since you’re submerged in water.
Therefore, you should be deliberate in your efforts to rehydrate.
#2: Don’t Skimp On Other Recovery Steps
Although you might be inclined to jump in the hot tub immediately after your workout, prioritize other aspects of your workout recovery first.
In other words, don’t skip your cool down, post-workout stretch, or refuel with your nutritional needs just because you want to relax in the jacuzzi after exercising.
Especially if you’re going to be soaking for longer than 20 minutes, it’s critical that you have your post-workout fueling first because it’s ideal to get your calories, carbohydrates, and protein in within that first 30 minutes after your workout to get recovery underway.
#3: Avoid the Hot Tub During Injuries
If you’re injured or have open wounds, you should consult your physician or physical therapist prior to soaking in the hot tub.
For certain injuries, soaking in a hot tub may be beneficial, whereas it might be contraindicated for others.
Many athletes enjoy the benefits of soaking in a hot tub before or after working out.
Begin with short soaks and gradually increase the duration and frequency of use as long as you tolerate it well.
Interested in ice baths instead? Check out our 6 Ice Bath Benefits for more information.