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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, How to Use Infrared Sauna for Muscle Recovery Enhancement

How to Use Infrared Sauna for Muscle Recovery Enhancement

Reading Time: 5 minutes 16 seconds


DATE: 2023-12-12

In the world of personal training, muscle recovery involves resting between training periods. Nutrition plays a role as well, with protein being the primary focus. Another option that can help restore muscle tissue after exercise is an infrared sauna.

What Infrared Sauna Is

As its name implies, an infrared sauna is a sauna that uses infrared light. This means that it doesn't heat the air around you. Instead, the infrared rays only heat the body itself. That makes this type of sauna more comfortable for people who find the high temperatures in a traditional sauna too much.

Infrared light therapy in this form is sometimes called a far infrared sauna or FIR sauna. This is because the infrared light's wavelengths are "far" on the light spectrum. They are longer than the ones used in near-infrared and mid-infrared sauna options.

Benefits of Infrared Heat Therapy for Muscle Recovery

The light emitted in infrared sauna therapy penetrates deep below the skin's surface. This provides access to the muscle tissue stressed during strength training sessions. But how does infrared therapy work?

An article published in 2019 explains that the answer is still somewhat unclear. (1) Though, it does appear to offer many heat-related health effects. This includes vasodilation of the capillaries, which improves blood circulation. This enables more oxygen and nutrients to get to the muscle tissue. It also improves the body's ability to whisk toxins away.

One of the primary "toxins" created with strength training is lactic acid. If excess lactic acid is not reduced, sore muscles result. Any athlete will tell you that muscle soreness can inhibit their performance. Increasing blood flow to the muscle decreases this likelihood.

Another benefit of infrared therapy is reduced pain. It works by serving as an analgesic to the muscle tissue. Again, this is beneficial in cases of muscle soreness after intense workouts. If you can keep your clients from having sore muscles, they'll find it easier to stick to their training regimen. Plus, it offers a pain relief option that doesn't involve taking medications.

Additional benefits include improved sleep quality, increased skin elasticity, and reduced fat mass. Sleep further aids muscle recovery, making this one component extra effective. Increased skin elasticity means a more tone appearance. Reduced fat mass speaks for itself.

Infrared Sauna Therapy Research

Many studies have been conducted to learn how infrared heat affects muscle tissue. One was published in 2015. (2) It investigated the use of far infrared sauna bathing on recovery following endurance training sessions.

Ten men engaged in 30-minute sauna bathing sessions. These sessions were held after doing strength or endurance training. For some, the sauna bathing session involved the use of a far infrared sauna. The remainder used traditional Finnish sauna bathing.

Researchers found that those using far infrared sauna bathing had better neuromuscular recovery. They further noted that this type of infrared therapy also offered "a comfortable and relaxing experience."

Another 2015 study found the same when far infrared heat was used on power athletes. (3) These athletes also saw improved neuromuscular performance recovery. This enabled them to work out harder and accelerate their athletic development.

Still more pieces of research highlight additional benefits of an infrared sauna. One shares how it helps lower blood pressure. (4) This is important because high blood pressure can lead to hypertension. What can hypertension lead to? Sudden cardiac death.

This article adds that, in addition to improving blood pressure, sauna bathing can also improve joint pain and mobility. It's also beneficial to the lungs and good for the skin. So, the use of infrared sauna heat provides many benefits.

Infrared Sauna vs Red Light Therapy

Some people confuse infrared sauna treatments with red light therapy. However, the two are very different.

As mentioned previously, an infrared sauna uses far infrared light. Red light therapy, on the other hand, uses near infrared light. NASA explains that near infrared light is closer to being a "visible light" whereas far infrared light is more electromagnetic. (5) It is also more "thermal," or a source of heat. Other more common sources of far infrared heat include a fire burning in the fireplace or even sunlight.

These far infrared heat sources are dramatically different than sources that use near infrared light. An example of a device that uses near infrared light is a remote control. The light's wavelength allows it to control the television, but it does not release heat.

Red light therapy is also sometimes called low-level laser therapy or photobiomodulation. Although it doesn't emit heat, this type of therapy does serve a valuable purpose. Research has connected red light therapy with being anti-inflammatory. (6) It also promotes the expression of antioxidant enzymes.

Infrared Sauna Options

If you work for a large gym or fitness facility, you may have access to an onsite infrared sauna. This makes it incredibly easy to include this treatment in your client's muscle recovery plan.

If you are a gym owner or an independent personal trainer, you can purchase your own infrared sauna. A one or two-person sauna generally costs between $1,500 and $3,000. Though, some companies offer more basic infrared saunas for a few hundred dollars.

Purchasing your own sauna is a great way to set yourself apart from other trainers. It also provides another revenue stream. You can sell an individual infrared sauna session for $25 to $40. Or you can bundle them together in a package for a higher cost.

If the expense of an actual sauna is too much, another option is an infrared sauna blanket. It works the same as an upright sauna but in blanket form. The prices are much lower, usually ranging from $200 to $500 each. Plus, if you go to client's homes, you can take the blanket with you.

Clients who are interested in achieving maximal muscle recovery may even decide to buy their own blanket. This way, they have it available any time they have sore muscles.

Tips for Using Infrared Sauna for Muscle Recovery

For optimal muscle recovery, clients may want to engage in sauna therapy 3-4 times a week. At first, these sessions should be shorter, around 10-15 minutes in length. As clients become more used to sauna therapy, they can be increased to 20-30 minutes each.

Some people prefer to wear swimsuits when using the sauna. Others like to be unclothed. Options available to your client will depend on how much privacy exists in and around the sauna area.

Because infrared does heat the body, it's important that clients stay hydrated. Encourage them to drink water before and after their sauna session. They may even want to take a bottle of water into the sauna with them.

Perhaps the best piece of advice for clients using sauna therapy is to listen to their bodies. If they start to feel unwell during a sauna session, they should cut it short. Also, pay attention to how the sauna affects their muscle soreness. This will help identify how many sessions per week are needed for the best effects.

When Infrared Sauna Therapy Is NOT Recommended

Like with any other treatment method, infrared sauna therapy isn't for everyone. That's why it is always recommended that clients speak with their doctor first. This is even more important if they have high blood pressure or heart-related issues. Sauna therapy also isn't advised when a client isn't feeling well.

Clients should definitely not engage in a sauna session if they've been drinking. The reason for this is because alcohol increases the risk of dehydration. Since infrared sauna does heat the body, this risk is elevated when alcohol is added to the equation.

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  1. L, C. (2019). Use of infrared as a complementary treatment approach in medicine and Aesthetic Medicine. Asploro Journal of Biomedical and Clinical Case Reports, 2(2), 77–81. https://doi.org/10.36502/2019/asjbccr.6164 

  2. 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(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5 

  3. Noponen, P. V., Hakkinen, K., & Mero, A. A. (2015). Effects of far infrared heat on recovery in power athletes. Journal of Athletic Enhancement, 04(04). https://doi.org/10.4172/2324-9080.1000202 

  4. Hannuksela, M. L., & Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and risks of Sauna Bathing. The American Journal of Medicine, 110(2), 118–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0002-9343(00)00671-9 

  5. Reflected near-infrared waves - NASA science. NASA. (n.d.). https://science.nasa.gov/ems/08_nearinfraredwaves/ 

  6. de Freitas, L. F., & Hamblin, M. R. (2016). Proposed mechanisms of photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics, 22(3), 348–364. https://doi.org/10.1109/jstqe.2016.2561201

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