For athletes of all levels, research shows infrared saunas are useful in enhancing muscle recovery and performance. This article explores some of the science behind how infrared helps before, during, and after physical activity, and why professional trainers are choosing to incorporate infrared saunas in muscle recovery programs.
Harness the Best Heat with Infrared
Heat alone aids muscle recovery, provides temporary pain relief, and decreases inflammation. In an infrared sauna, the far and mid-infrared light waves provide an even deeper therapeutic experience than the heat in a traditional sauna that only heats the air. Infrared light waves penetrate the body to heat from within, penetrating the joints, muscles, and tissues, and increasing circulation and blood flow. (1)
For proper healing, good circulation is critical. Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients to the site of the strain or inflammation, which helps to create new blood vessels and tissues at the site. The more red and white blood cells that can get delivered to muscles, the quicker they rebuild.
Experts recommend incorporating infrared sauna heat for muscle recovery during intense training periods to help athletes adapt to stress and improve recovery. Director of Sports Performance and Science for Sporting Kansas City (Kansas City’s professional soccer team), Joey Harty, uses an infrared sauna in the team’s world-class training facility as part of their athlete’s recovery protocol options.
“When you’re in the hardest training period and you want to adapt to the exercise stimulus, heat is always your best friend,” Harty explains. “The increased circulation allows the body to go through the natural process of inflammation and helps the body recover from that inflammation because it’s delivering more nutrients by letting the blood flow get where it needs to go.”
Heat without the Discomfort
Infrared saunas offer the benefits of heat without the discomfort and dangers of high heat traditional saunas. “What’s really cool with infrared sauna compared to a normal sauna is you don’t feel dehydrated after you leave,” explains Harty. “The temperatures aren’t as intense as the typical sauna that you would see at most commercial gyms. The temperatures are a lot lower, and the infrared light penetrates deeper, so you’re getting more of an internal heat in response as opposed to just an external heat temperature that causes fluid loss. The players get cellular healing from being inside the infrared sauna. It’s really important for maximizing adaptation, as well as recovery.”
A study published in The Journal of Athletic Enhancement also found that far infrared heat improves neuromuscular performance during intensive training (2) for reasons beyond circulation. The study concluded that far infrared heat provides a useful tool to accelerate recovery, which can enable harder training and can further accelerate athletic development.
Metabolic Muscle Recovery vs Mechanical Muscle Recovery
One of the ways that Harty helps Sporting Kansas City’s athletes determine when to use their infrared sauna for recovery involves educating them in how to feel the difference in metabolic and mechanical repair needs of their bodies.
Understanding what type of fatigue a player is experiencing guides what recovery protocol Harty recommends. He categorizes fatigue into two types—mechanical and metabolic—and then teaches the athletes how to assess which type they’re feeling.
“Mechanical fatigue involves sore muscles or tissue. Metabolic fatigue feels like heavy legs, a lazy feeling in your body, feeling a lack of energy, no pop when you’re going to run, but not necessarily sore,” says Harty. “If your body is feeling metabolic fatigue as game time nears, that’s where we want a player to go into the infrared sauna, and maybe follow it up with the hot tub to get both heat modalities, but also the infrared sauna provides more benefits than just immersion in water.”
Increase Flexibility with Infrared
Flexibility is also important for performance and injury prevention. An independent study conducted at Auburn University of Montgomery showed a sauna can increase flexibility up to 3x. The benefits of increased range of motion and greater flexibility include joint mobility, less friction in the joints, enabling joint function to diminish stiffness, and joint relaxation. (3)
Infrared light therapy offers incredible support to help ensure that the human body is able to maintain optimal levels of physical fitness and well-being while also mitigating injury. It’s an incredible way to keep feeling better so you can continue doing more of what you love to do.
WRITTEN BY: Sunlighten
Shining light on infrared technology, Sunlighten® is the #1 choice for personalized infrared light treatments. Since 1999, we have been committed to innovating wellness products and services that empower our customers to improve their quality of life. Our patented SoloCarbon® technology rejuvenates the body by delivering the highest dose of infrared energy to the body – proven up to 99% effective. Our technological innovations are fueled by our passion to make a difference. And we are building a global community of businesses, consumers, and trusted experts to support each other along the way and make the world a healthier, happier place.
Sunlighten saunas are not a medical device as defined by Section 201(h) of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. Sunlighten provides general information relating to various medical conditions for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified health care professional. Please consult with your physician regarding diagnosis or treatment.