While many athletes put large amounts of thought and efforts into how they take care of their body’s interior needs, such as following a healthy, energy-providing diet and nutrition programme and investing in multiple nutritional supplements for before, during and after their workout – in many way’s the body’s exterior needs can sometimes be neglected. Sound familiar? Read our best body maintenance buying guide.
Exercise, especially outdoors in all conditions, can take a toll on the skin and muscles, so it’s worth taking some time to think about products that can be used to protect, sooth and aid recovery of the body.
Every athlete knows the value of a long, hot soak in the tub to ease tired muscles and remove workout grime, for example, but there are many products also intended for use before and during exertion that can help minimize the damage in the first place. Read on for more information about products that can keep your body in tip-top shape, inside and out.
Which body maintenance products are right for you?
No matter what kind of exercise you are doing – cycling, running, swimming or tri – there are some products that have a universal application, in helping to protect and soothe your skin or ease tight and sore muscles. Some products, however, are more specialized and designed for particular disciplines (cyclists may pity the poor runners, for example, that will never experience the joy of chamois cream).
For simplicity’s sake, we have divided our range of body maintenance products into two main categories: skincare and muscle care. You may find that one product fits your needs, or a combination of two our more, or that one product designed primarily for skincare also helps with muscle ache. The type of product you choose will depend entirely on the type of exercise you enjoy, and the type of problem you hope it will alleviate. Our advice is not to neglect body maintenance – anything that makes the overall experience of training and exercise more enjoyable is valuable, as it will keep you coming back for more. It’s not supposed to be punishment!
Sports-specific skincare products generally fall into two categories – balms, oils and creams designed to be applied before exercise (to protect from the elements or provide a barrier against chafing), and those that are primarily intended for post-workout recovery.
• Chamois cream: The word ‘chamois’ refers to the padded insert (leather or synthetic) found in cycling shorts. For many cyclists who spend long hours in the saddle the discovery of chamois cream is an epiphany – a thick, soothing cream that is liberally applied to areas in contact with the saddle (not intimate areas) to reduce friction, prevent overheating and generally offer a soothing barrier which prevents chafing and pain. Historically, many cyclists have used general-purpose lotions and balms such as Vaseline or Sudocrem, but cycle-specific chamois creams are less prone to staining fabrics, easier to wash out and remove from hands, and generally just easier to work with. Many ‘shammy creams’ also have a cooling menthol effect (take our word for it, it’s quite the feeling) when applied to the skin, and will have microbial properties to prevent buildup of bacteria. In practice, chamois creams are also applied to the padded insert itself, improving suppleness, enhancing any antibacterial properties it may have and extending its life. Take our word for it – once you’ve used a decent chamois cream you’ll never go back. Highly recommended for any cyclists who rack up the hours, especially on long training or sportive rides.
• Skin balms and gels: Skin balms – like general products such as Vaseline – provide a protective barrier between skin and fabric, helping to discourage chafing in certain areas. Cyclists may find such balms effective around high-movement areas such as the hip flexors, runners may help to prevent sores from running shoes and triathletes may find that balms applied around the neck, arms and knees make removing a wetsuit easier, and wearing it more comfortable. Other skin gels meanwhile have thermal properties, warming up the muscles to help boost oxygen flow for improved aerobic performance (during exercise) and better recovery (after exercise). Finally, cyclists who shave their legs may find a specific skin balm soothing post-shave, while some have depilatory properties to slow down hair regrowth.
• Water-free body washes: Some skincare products have been specially formulated to be applied liberally after a workout, on those occasions when a shower is not possible (race day or back-country adventures). While they are not a substitute for a good scrub-down, they will help remove oil and grime and prevent bacterial buildup, until such time as you can have a proper wash.
Muscle care products
• Massage oils and gels: The benefits of both pre- and post-workout massage are well-documented. A massage before your ride or run will warm up your muscles and loosen any tight spots, helping to prevent cramp and improve oxygen flow for better performance, while post-exercise massage will decontract and reoxygenate tired muscles, helping to prevent injury and fatigue. There are multiple oils and gels designed for muscle massage, some with added ingredients such as caffeine (for muscle stimulation), antibacterial agents (such as Tea Tree Oil) or even thermal properties. Sport-specific massage products are fast-absorbing and designed not to leave a greasy residue on the skin.
• Massage rollers and balls: As with massage oils and gels, foam rollers and massage balls are designed to aid with massage, or more specifically a type of self-massage that is sometimes referred to as myofascial release. This refers to self-massage aimed at releasing muscle or knots in large muscle groups such as the lats, quads, lower back or legs. By applying pressure to specific points on your body you are able to aid in the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function, meaning they are elastic, healthy, and ready for the next workout. Foam rollers can also be incorporated into a floor- or gym-based workout, especially on that focuses on the core abdominal muscles, hip flexors and shoulders etc. This type of product has become widely used in recent years and there is a wealth of information – either online or supplied with the product in the form of instruction booklets, DVDs or even apps – to show you how to do it safely and effectively.
• Athletic tape: Athletic tape or strapping can be used to bind and support certain muscles in order to help prevent over-extension and injury, or for compression to boost muscle oxygenation.