It was 4:30 am the morning of my very first half marathon. I stood in my bathroom, barely awake, staring at my shower, and thinking, “Should I take a shower before my run?” I thought perhaps it would make my race go better. Is there a best answer for runners for when to shower around your run? I’ve done the research, so let’s take a look!
Showering before your run is the best choice if you have a hard time waking up in the morning, you’re acne-prone or if you’ll be around a lot of other people indoors at a gym or fitness center. It can also be a helpful part of your warm-up routine. Cold showers may offer added benefits.
But pre-run showers aren’t for everyone and there can be downsides, too. When I talk about showering before a run, I mean someone who showers right before they head out the door on their run. Read on to learn more the pros and cons of showering before your run, factors to take into consideration, and even some of the benefits you might reap if you turn that shower dial to a cold water setting.
Benefits of Showering Before a Run
There are several advantages to showering prior to your run. These include:
- Helping to Wake You Up: If you’re generally not a morning person, but you get up early for your runs, a quick rinse in the shower can be the little boost you need to help fully wake up and become ready to hit the roads.
- Eliminating the Stink: Let’s face it, some of us are more prone to body odor than others. If this is you, then even a short pre-run shower (say, 2-3 minutes) can help. This might be important if you’re someone who runs indoors at a gym or fitness center, where you will be in close proximity to a lot of other people. Those people will appreciate working out near someone who smells fresh! For those who regularly run in groups of runners or in running clubs, your fellow training partners might also appreciate a fresh-smelling running partner.
- Combating Acne: For those who are more susceptible to face and/or body acne, dermatologists recommend cleansing the skin before a workout as the best way to combat breakouts. Shape Magazine writes, “If you’re especially worried about breakouts, it’s actually much more important to cleanse your face before exercise rather than after your workout.”
Showering prior to a run will eliminate any built-up oils, dead skin, and bacteria, which, mixed with sweat and tight workout clothing, could clog pores and cause or aggravate breakouts.
- Warming up Before Your Warmup: A hot shower prior to your run will increase your overall body temperature, increase your blood flow, and help loosen any stiffness or soreness in your muscles, preparing your body for your upcoming run. So for runners who may be marathon training running many miles and experiencing cumulative fatigue or have a long run that day, a pre-run shower could give you a little extra boost!
Cons of Showering Before a Run
Showering sounds like a great option at this point, right? Keep in mind there are also some cons of showering before a run. They are:
- The Effects of Taking Yet Another Shower: I think it’s safe to say that most of us want to shower fairly soon after working up a sweat during our runs. If you’ve already taken a shower right before your run, the thought of showering again so soon might not be the most appealing. Then there’s the effect on your skin (not to mention your hair if you’re washing it every time) of taking too many showers. Showering removes the healthy oils and bacteria that are needed to keep the skin healthy. Too many showers can strip too much of these oils and germs away, leading to excess dryness and possible infection in cracks in the skin.
- Wasting Water: According to the EPA, the average shower head processes about 16 gallons of water for the average American. Taking two showers, one pre- and one post-run, is a huge waste of water and energy, especially when the first shower is essentially negated by the run that follows it. Most would agree that water is a precious resource that needs to conserved.
- Risking Early Burnout: If you take a warm or hot shower prior to your run, your core temperature will rise, and you might find that you run out of energy earlier than anticipated during your run. This is because your body temperature was elevated prematurely, and wasn’t able to warm up more gradually during the run itself. (But you could always opt for a cold shower which we’ll talk about more below.)
So, is it better to take a shower before or after running/exercise?
If you need help waking up, are acne prone, or will be running close by others it’s best to shower pre-run, otherwise waiting until after is probably ideal. Wasting water by showering twice is not good for the environment and we’re guessing you’re going to want to clean away all that sweat after you run. And potentially damaging your skin from over-showering opens you up to problems ranging from itchiness, dryness, and infection – none of which are pleasant side-effects. but in the end, it mostly comes down to personal preference.
Are cold showers before a run a good idea?
Cold water has had a reputation as a cure for a number of human ailments and conditions. More recently, science has begun to delve into the claims about cold water to better understand, and possibly confirm, cold water’s benefits. So, if you still aren’t sure if a pre-run shower is for you or not, perhaps you may consider a cold shower.
Here are two reasons you might consider taking a cold shower prior to a run:
- “Pre-cooling” the Body for Better Performance: In a 2002 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, scientists found that exposing athletes to cold (via cold air, cold water immersion, or cold showers) prior to endurance exercise benefitted their performances. Runners in particular saw a 16% increase in endurance time when they pre-cooled before an intense run. However, the scientists cautioned, “the practical application at present is limited because of the time required to achieve sufficient body cooling to improve exercise performance.”
In other words, pre-cooling works great in a sports lab environment, but might not be effective for the average runner who is crunched for time. Though it’s certainly worth a try if you’re an endurance runner!
- Shocking the System: Taking a cold shower prior to a run is a great way to wake up the body. A cold shower before a run can increase your heart rate and alertness, preparing someone who might not have been the most awake or alert for their upcoming run.
In general, according to Harvard Business Review, there are universal benefits to taking cold showers – not necessarily prior to your run – even if that means only switching the water to its coldest setting for the last 30 seconds of your hot shower!
Some of these benefits of a cold shower are:
- Increasing pain tolerance
- Calming itchy skin
- Improving blood circulation
- Reducing inflammation and muscle soreness
- Boosting the immune system
Though cold showers can provide lots of benefits to the body, these benefits won’t necessarily impact your running. But they might! If it’s what you need to help you get out the door and feel more awake on your run, it may be exactly what you need.
What else should you do before running?
Besides a possible shower, what else should you be doing before your runs?
- Hydrate by drinking water or an electrolyte beverage, such as Nuun, which is especially necessary for staying safe during those warm weather runs.
- Eat a little something, particularly something carb-rich and easy to digest that sits well with your stomach on the run. For ideas read: What You Should Eat Before a Morning Long Run
- Use the restroom – in fact, leave plenty of time after you eat to get things moving as you will feel so much better!
- Complete a dynamic warm-up which will help you have a better way and aid in preventing running injuries
RELATED: Preparing for a Morning Long Run
If you’re wondering what I decided to do on the morning of my half marathon, after weighing my options, I decided not to shower beforehand. In the end, the idea of taking two showers in one morning outweighed any potential arguments I had in favor of showering before my race. Besides, rewarding myself with one nice, hot shower after a long and sweaty race sounded amazing! The rule of thumb is to never try anything new on race day, and showering beforehand would have definitely been something new for me.
But never say never! Some of those pre-run shower benefits can’t be ignored.