One of my all-time favorite recovery tools as a runner (and mother runner!) is an Epsom salt bath. I know people are all about the bio-hacking of ice baths but we mother runners don’t need extra stress to hack our bodies. We need CALM, relaxation, SOOTHING.
That’s where Epsom salt (aka magnesium sulfate) baths come in. Warm baths in general provide a host of health benefits for people but when combined with the powerful properties of Epsom salt, their benefits are pretty much undeniable (especially for tired, stressed out bodies of mother runners).
This is why I urge my athletes during rest days (or frankly, whenever they can) to take a warm Epsom salt bath. I suggest upping the ante with a good book, candle, dim light, calming music, face mask, and a closed door. Forget biohacking—let’s spa hack our homes!
Truth be told, many of my baths are spent with my kids in there with me or answering emails. But for the optimal experience, do the above!
Why I made Epsom Salt Soaks a Habit
I started taking an Epsom salt bath EVERY DAY when I tore my hamstring (for the first time…another story) in 2010. My doctor recommended it as part of my treatment method, and I fell in love. This was pre-kids and I would take long soaks after work reading magazines and books almost every day. When I started running again, an Epsom soak post-workout became a staple.
These long soaks took a long break when my kids were very little but now that I can sneak away without them crying for me—I take them whenever I can.
Why? Because taking warm baths provides an instant sense of calm and re-set. A warm epsom salt bath provides an unmistakably boost in recovery. My sore muscles feel better after an intense workout or long run, and I just feel fresher in both body and mind.
In fact, when we travel—especially for races, I try to book a hotel room with a bath tub so I can take an Epsom salt bath.
I’m not the only one who has seen the benefits. Research has, too! Along with most of my athletes who are now hooked on Epsom salt baths.
In this article, I am going to dive into:
- What is Epsom salt?
- What are the benefits of Epsom salt, according to research?
- What are the best Epsom salt products on the market? And,
- How should runners use Epsom salt baths as a recovery tool?
So, let’s go!
Note: While Epsom salt soaks are a common home remedy for muscle tension and overall relaxation, talk to your healthcare provider first—especially if you are experiencing unusual muscle aches, chronic pain, or have any health conditions!
What is Epsom salt?
Epsom salt is the name of a naturally-occurring mineral compound that is made up of magnesium and sulfur (sulfate). Its name comes from the town of Epsom, England, where the mineral salt was discovered about 400 years ago. (It is NOT the same as table salt and not meant to be eaten!)
Epsom salt is known for its ability to draw out toxins and reduce inflammation, which is why it’s often used as a remedy for sore muscles.
The reason why epsom salt baths could be beneficial for sore muscles is that the magnesium in epsom salt helps relax your muscles and reduce muscle spasms. Indeed, magnesium is crucial for overall health. It is responsible for energy creation, formation of new proteins, gene repair and maintenance, muscle contractions and relaxations, and nervous system regulation. Meanwhile, sulfur may help speed up your body’s natural recovery process.
What’s the difference between Epsom salt and dead sea salt?
Dead sea salts, found in the Dead Sea, and Epsom salt are similar—dead sea salts consist of salt (sodium chloride) and dozens of other minerals. Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulphate. Soaking in Epsom salt is better for runners than soaking in dead sea salt as Epsom salt has been shown to ease muscle aches, soothe joints, and reduce inflammation.
What are the benefits of Epsom salt, according to research?
The benefits of using epsom salt are numerous. However, there is little scientific evidence that the magnesium is actually absorbed through the skin. Yet, multiple studies (like this one of reduced pain and stiffness after a foot soak), show overall improvement in how people feel after a soak.
Below are the potential benefits of Epsom salt soak for runners (and people in general):
- it helps relieve pain and discomfort from muscle cramps, sprains and strains
- reduces inflammation
- eases joint pain and stiffness
- improves circulation
- stimulates skin renewal
- minimizes fatigue after exercise
- helps heal wounds faster
- relieves stress and anxiety
- helps eliminate toxins from the body through sweat glands
- relaxes your muscles and easing tension and sore muscles (DOMS)
- helps you sleep better
- relieves pain from sunburns and bug bites
- eases menstrual cramps
- can help headaches
- reduces pain associated with arthritis and gout
- and increases energy levels by energizing cells throughout the body.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Epsom salt soaks are not recommended for people with severe skin inflammation, skin infections, open wounds, or severe burns.
Related: How to Stay in Shape with No Race
So how does epsom salt work?
Epsom salts have been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy for pain relief from sore muscles, arthritis and other ailments.
Related: How to Cope with A Running Injury
The magnesium in Epsom salt helps relax muscles and relieve pain by relaxing blood vessels and reducing inflammation, it’s believed. The sulfur helps remove toxins from joints and other soft tissues, making them feel less stiff and sore as well.
If you doubt the benefits of Epsom salt because science doesn’t prove it’s efficacy, a warm bath alone also has benefits for blood flow, recovery, and stress relief.
How should a runner use Epsom salt baths as part of their recovery?
If you’re a runner who needs some relief after pounding the pavement (or treadmill), try adding 1-2 cup of Epsom salts to your bath! You can do this right after a long run or hard workout, or later in the evening (or day):
- Turn on the warm bath water.
- Add 1-2 cups of Epsom salt as it fills up. Read instructions for how much.
- Allow salt to dissolve (can take about 10 minutes). You can feel the bottom of the tub to tell.
- Aim to soak your entire body for 15-20 minutes in warm water for maximum magnesium absorption.
- Amplify the benefits by doing deep belly breaths, listening to calming music, burning a candle, dimming the lights, and closing the door.
- You can also meditate. I love to listen to Jay Shetty’s Daily Calm.
- It’s best to take an Epsom salt at night or after a long workout.
- You don’t have to take it within a certain window of time to reap benefits.
- Avoid getting water with Epsom salt in your eyes as it could sting.
What are the best Epsom salt products for runners?
The powerful properties of Epsom salt have been known for centuries and marketers have also discovered its appeal. For that reason, there are lots of Epsom salt products on the market with lots of scents and specific uses (even for gardeners!).
Dr. Teals’ has a whole line of scrubs, bubble bath, and shower gels with epsom salt. However, the most effective way to get the benefits of Epsom salt is to soak in it for about 15-20 minutes, research finds.
For this reason, it is best to get a bag of pure Epsom salt for soaking. You can find plenty in your local drug stores, grocery stores, or on Amazon. My husband HATES scented Epsom salt (it permeates the whole house!), so I avoid those kind (even though I do enjoy the lavender scent before bed).
The best Epsom salt soak brands I have use include:
- EpSoak (basic, unscented) $22.99 for two 5 lb. bags
- Teals’ Unscented Pure Epsom Salt (makes for great gifts, too!) 5 lb bag for $4.97 (get in scented with essential oils like Relax + Relief, Black Elderberry with Vit. D, and Glow & Radiance) for one dollar more)
- Coach Soak (Dissolves faster in the bath so absorbs faster) $25.95 for a 3 lb bag
I hope this helps you know level up your muscle recovery with a nice warm soak. You earned it!
If you need guidance with your training, going after your goals, and recovery (yes! I will tell you to draw yourself a bath), check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
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