Recovery Lab

The Benefits of Infrared Saunas for Post-Exercise Recovery

The Benefits of Infrared Saunas for Post-Exercise Recovery

Infrared saunas (IRS) are gaining popularity among athletes and fitness enthusiasts for their potential to enhance recovery after intense workouts. Recent research has shed light on various benefits of infrared sauna sessions, making them an attractive option for those looking to optimize their post-exercise recovery.

Enhancing Neuromuscular Performance and Reducing Soreness

A study by Ahokas et al. (2022) found that a single infrared sauna session, conducted at a temperature of 43.5°C, significantly improved recovery of neuromuscular performance. Participants experienced reduced muscle soreness and reported better perceived recovery status. These findings suggest that infrared saunas can help you bounce back faster after intense exercise, allowing you to maintain a consistent training schedule without the usual delays caused by muscle pain and fatigue.

Improving Muscle Contractility and Stability

Research by Cernych et al. (2019) delved into the effects of infrared saunas on muscle function. The study revealed that post-sauna recovery might accelerate muscle contractility and improve muscle stability, without increasing neuromuscular fatigue during sustained submaximal contractions. This means that using an infrared sauna after exercise can enhance certain aspects of muscle performance without making you more prone to fatigue.

Comparing Far-Infrared and Traditional Saunas

Mero et al. (2015) compared the recovery effects of far-infrared saunas (FIRS) and traditional Finnish saunas (TRAD). Their findings showed that FIRS, with temperatures ranging from 35 to 50°C, provided a more comfortable recovery experience with less cardiovascular strain. Participants also exhibited better recovery of neuromuscular performance post-exercise. This suggests that far-infrared saunas might be a better choice for those undergoing high-intensity training sessions, offering a soothing recovery process while efficiently enhancing muscle performance.

Monitoring Muscle Soreness with Thermal Imaging

Stewart et al. (2020) explored the use of infrared thermography to detect skin temperature changes post-exercise, which can indicate inflammatory responses linked to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This non-invasive method could become a valuable tool for monitoring recovery and identifying systemic inflammation after strenuous workouts. By tracking these changes, athletes and trainers can better understand and manage the recovery process.

Evaluating Far-Infrared Emitting Ceramic Materials

A study by Nunes et al. (2019) investigated the effects of wearing bioceramic pants emitting far-infrared radiation on recovery after maximal eccentric exercise. While the results showed trends in reduced muscle damage markers, the pants did not significantly enhance recovery. This suggests that passive infrared exposure may not be as effective as active infrared sauna sessions for aiding post-exercise recovery.

Conclusion

The body of research on infrared saunas highlights their potential to improve muscle performance, reduce soreness, and offer a comfortable and efficient recovery experience. Whether you are an elite athlete or a fitness enthusiast, incorporating infrared sauna sessions into your post-exercise routine could be a game-changer, helping you recover faster and perform at your best.

Recommended Protocol for Infrared Sauna for Post-Exercise Recovery

Incorporating infrared sauna sessions into your post-exercise routine can be highly beneficial for enhancing recovery, reducing muscle soreness, and improving overall performance. Based on the research discussed, here’s a recommended protocol:

Session Timing

Post-Exercise: Utilise the infrared sauna within 30 minutes to 1 hour after completing your workout. This timing maximises the benefits by capitalising on the body’s heightened responsiveness to recovery interventions.

Session Duration

Optimal Duration: Spend approximately 20-30 minutes of full heat exposure in the infrared sauna. This duration is sufficient to induce the beneficial effects without causing excessive strain on the body.

Temperature Settings

Temperature Range: Set the infrared sauna to a temperature of 45-50°C (113-122°F). This range is effective for promoting recovery while ensuring comfort and minimising cardiovascular strain.

Frequency

Regular Use: Aim for 2-4 sessions per week. Consistency is key to reaping the cumulative benefits of infrared sauna therapy for muscle recovery and performance enhancement.

Hydration and Cooling Down

Pre and Post-Hydration: Ensure you are well-hydrated before entering the sauna and drink water immediately after the session. This helps in maintaining optimal hydration levels and supports the detoxification process.

Cool Down: After your sauna session, spend a few minutes cooling down. This can involve simply resting at room temperature to gradually bring your body back to its normal state.

Monitoring and Adjustments

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body responds to the sauna sessions. If you experience any discomfort, dizziness, or excessive fatigue, reduce the duration or frequency of the sessions.

Personal Adjustments: Individual responses can vary, so feel free to adjust the protocol based on your specific needs and tolerance levels. Some athletes might benefit from longer or more frequent sessions, while others might need to shorten them.

By following this recommended protocol, you can effectively utilise infrared sauna therapy to enhance your recovery process, reduce muscle soreness, and improve your overall performance. Remember, the key to successful integration is consistency and paying close attention to your body’s signals.

References

Ahokas, E., Ihalainen, J., Hanstock, H., Savolainen, E., & Kyröläinen, H. (2022). A post-exercise infrared sauna session improves recovery of neuromuscular performance and muscle soreness after resistance exercise training. Biology of Sport, 40, 681 – 689. https://doi.org/10.5114/biolsport.2023.119289.

Cernych, M., Baranauskienė, N., Vitkauskienė, A., Satas, A., & Brazaitis, M. (2019). Accelerated muscle contractility and decreased muscle steadiness following sauna recovery do not induce greater neuromuscular fatigability during sustained submaximal contractions.. Human movement science, 63, 10-19 . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.humov.2018.11.009.

Mero, A., Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M., & Puurtinen, R. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. SpringerPlus, 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5.

Stewart, I., Moghadam, P., Borg, D., Kung, T., Sikka, P., & Minett, G. (2020). Thermal Infrared Imaging Can Differentiate Skin Temperature Changes Associated With Intense Single Leg Exercise, But Not With Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness.. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19 3, 469-477 .