The Hot and Cold of Recovery

kmfperformance Coaching Perspectives

One of my favorite parts of Chicago is Edge Athlete Lounge, which is basically heaven on earth for endurance and multisport athletes. Equipped with cutting-edge recovery tools, including a RecoveryPump Boot Lounge, water therapy tubs, electro-stim, laser therapy, and exclusive access to in-house medical recovery personnel for physical therapy, sports chiropractic, Active Release Technique (ART) and sports massage… I think it goes without saying that these people eat, sleep, and breathe recovery.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have regular access to such a variety of resources, and we are often limited to the confines of our bathtubs. And if you’re like me, you have only one! So the great debate becomes… Hot or cold? What is going to help me recover most efficiently and effectively so I can attack tomorrow’s session(s)? And I was lucky enough to gain some insight from owner Robyn LaLonde about the proverbial “Song of Fire and Ice.” And yes, I did just make a Game of Thrones reference. At any rate, here’s what I learned:

I’ve just returned home after a big session, do I go with the ice bath or the hot tub?

Cold is usually the ideal for recovery as long as it’s not too cold and you don’t sit too long. Cold temperatures basically make your body freak out – muscles flush, blood vessels constrict, metabolic activity decreases. During this cooling period, the blood carries waste to the core where it gets pushed through the heart and cleaned by the lymphatic system. Getting the extra waste off our muscles the same day as a tough training session means less tissue trauma and faster recovery. It’s important to be careful not to sit in the cold tub too long because the blood vessels will eventually constrict too much and circulation will slow down too much to be effective.

That makes a lot of sense, but what about hot tubs? They don’t seem as… Cold…

Hot isn’t used much for recovery purposes since it actually draws blood down to the extremities that are submerged in the water, and we want the blood (and waste) to always go up through the core. The hot won’t necessarily cause inflammation in every case, but it definitely won’t help combat it. Typically, the times we recommend hot as recovery is when there is a true mobility issue, such as being unable to walk/squat post-marathon, have a pinched nerve, etc. In these instances, the athlete needs the muscles to relax so the extra blood and fluids are needed in a localized area.

At Edge, you are big fans of the cold-hot contrast. Can you tell me more about what that does?

bathsThe cold-hot-cold contrast is so awesome because we first drive everything to your core in the cold, and then we go to the hot to increase circulation again in the submerged area, and then we end on the cold to drive everything back up through the core. Essentially, this works to “scoop up” more waste the second time around… Like a really good pump. If that toe-to-hip progression sounds familiar, it’s because it’s exactly the same as the RecoveryPump compression boots!

What about Epsom salt baths? Is it all hype?

Hot salt baths can be pain relieving and also speed up circulation, and some studies even say they can help with metabolism. However, I’d still say no hot water if recovery is the main focus. You’d be better off wearing compression to bed! Think of the hot bath as pajama pants… They’re comfy as hell but not doing a whole lot for you in the way of recovery. Swap them out for compression tights (a.k.a ice bath), they’re a little hard to get into and you might be a bit uncomfortable but it’s way more effective.

If you live in the greater Chicago area or find yourself in the city on a trip, be sure to swing by Edge Athlete Lounge to see what they’re all about! You can also like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and Instagram!

By: Coach Amanda