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When playing sports, coaches and trainers are always very clear that it is necessary to warm up and stretch. But sometimes athletes sometimes want to get an extra stretch in and don't want to go through the hassle of warming up.

Will taking a hot shower warm up muscles or does an athlete sctually have to do physical exercises like jogging in order to be ready to stretch?

I know this sounds like a question I could go on the physical fitness SE, but I'm really hoping for an answer involving thermodynamics and I doubt I'll get that there.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you pose your question as a general scientific question applicable to a wider audience? Self-help questions are discouraged here and any reference to self should be removed thanks and good luck jogging :). $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 31 '15 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD Done. Better? $\endgroup$ – Stan Shunpike Mar 31 '15 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yep :) Great. Sorry for being nitpicky, but self-help questions tend to be closed quickly. just trying to help! $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 31 '15 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Often Nitpicky people make this site better so don't worry about it! :D $\endgroup$ – Stan Shunpike Mar 31 '15 at 14:24
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Hot shower will definitely affect your muscles health. Hot water shower results in Vasodilation,which will decrease the vascular resistance and allows blood to flow easily through the blood vessels. As the vasodilation (increase in diameter of blood vessels) allows blood to move without resistance and which in turn nourish the tissues with sufficient oxygen and nutrients. Also it affects in the removal of metabolic wastes from cells. There is another process called Vasoconstriction (decrease in blood vessel diameter) which makes the blood vessels to contract and may lead to increased blood pressure.

There is a technique called as Heat therapy which will be effective in muscle and body health.

Heat therapy, also called thermotherapy, is the use of heat in therapy, such as for pain relief and health. It can take the form of a hot cloth, hot water, ultrasound, heating pad, hydrocollator packs, whirlpool baths, cordless FIR heat therapy wraps, and others. It can be beneficial to those with arthritis and stiff muscles and injuries to the deep tissue of the skin. Heat may be an effective self-care treatment for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Heat therapy is most commonly used for rehabilitation purposes. The therapeutic effects of heat include increasing the extensibility of collagen tissues; decreasing joint stiffness; reducing pain; relieving muscle spasms; reducing inflammation, edema, and aids in the post acute phase of healing; and increasing blood flow. The increased blood flow to the affected area provides proteins, nutrients, and oxygen for better healing.Reference

While taking a hot water bath we are just making our muscles and tissues nourished, which means the muscles will be in a healthy state for expansion and contraction. So it is recommendable to take a hot bath before exercising.

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I am not an expert but I would definitely say never replace a warming-up by a hot bath. However, this depends on the activity to be undertaken. When you go for a round of chess or a stroll through the forest on a Sunday afternoon, sure, take a bath. When you're getting ready for a bout of sparring in a martial arts tournament, a hot bath is the perfect recipe to get injured (and beaten).

The Australia Sports Commission says that a warming-up aims to:

  • prepare the body and mind for the activity
  • increase the body's core temperature
  • increase heart rate
  • increase breathing rate.

None of these are targeted with a shower, on the contrary even I would say. The only thing that a hot bath can do is superficially increase temperature, flexibility and blood flow in the muscles. But this can never replace a warming up. I would save the bath for after exercise, as everyone does :)

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't a hot shower increase the body's core temperature, or does it only affect the body's surface temperature? $\endgroup$ – C_Z_ Mar 31 '15 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @CactusWoman: Just superficially I guess. Depends on the temperature and duration. A shower just above our core temperature is already pretty hot! $\endgroup$ – AliceD Mar 31 '15 at 20:34
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I am going to address only the stretching portion of the question since some misinformation is out there. When you say stretching, I hope you mean dynamic as opposed to static stretching especially if you are about to compete in a sport. If you are referring to static stretching, taking a shower may be a better option then, but if you mean dynamic stretching, a shower will not provide a greater benefit.

For peak performance, athletes or weekend warriors should use dynamic stretching prior to an event.

In previous research it has been recommended to use dynamic stretching as the primary method of stretching pre-event warm-up before high speed, and power activities (Little & Williams, 2004). The findings of this study agree with that recommendation for agility activities as well. This study supported the use of dynamic stretching in eliciting the greatest performance in agility movements by decreased T-Drill time. The findings of the current study are consistent with those of Fletcher and Jones (2004), and Young and Behm (2003) who determined that dynamic stretching elicits the best performance in power and high-speed activities [1].

However, static stretching does not improve performance and can actually lead to injury.

The current study found static stretching to have a negative effect on agility, and acceleration (Fletcher & Jones, 2004; Nelson et al., 2005). As acceleration is a component of agility, these findings support those of Fletcher and Jones (2004) and Nelson et al. (2005). Agility also involves components of braking, and change of direction. Static stretching prior to agility activities was found to have a negative effect on agility performance [1].

To read up on dynamic and static stretching as well as other types of stretching, I would recommend MIT's Types of Stretching page.

Additionally, the references to my reference one provides many more useful articles to look into.

  1. Static versus dynamic stretching effect on agility and performance
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  • $\begingroup$ Stretching and warming up are indeed a different thing altogether, +1. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 1 '15 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD the OP said some athletes want to get an extra stretch in but dont want to go through the hassle of warming up. To me, they are implying substituting a hot shower to stretching in order to warm up the muscles. $\endgroup$ – dustin Apr 1 '15 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ I agree - the question should have been specified first. Nice addition, hence the upvote :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 1 '15 at 13:38

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