*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing scientific literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
The claims in the article are backed by 13 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
You might be a professional athlete or a 50-year-old high-performer who wants to improve their recovery after workouts, or you may be injured and want to heal as quickly as possible.
Or, you may simply want to relax after an intense exercise session!
In all of these cases, you're probably thinking about "what's the ultimate sauna after exercise routine?" And: "what benefits do I get by getting into a sound after an intense workout session?".
In this blog post, I'll describe 4 benefits you'll get by using an infrared sauna after your workouts:
Benefits Of Sauna Bath After Exercise1: More Power & Endurance
No matter what sport you're practising - unless it's a mental sport like chess or gaming - you'll never have enough power and endurance. And sure, even in chess or gaming, you'd better be in perfect physical shape because your physical performance affects your mental performance and vice versa.
Let's break down the results of some studies:
In one study, participants bathed in a 35-50 degrees Celsius far infrared sauna for 30 minutes, at a maximum humidity of 35% (1). The participants who used an infrared study in this sauna had an improved "countermovement jump", 30 minutes after the sauna session, compared to participants who didn't use a sauna. The countermovement jump is a classical test for explosive power.
Well, explosive performance is a key indicator of how you're doing in sports like soccer, football, baseball, sprints, martial arts, and many others. If your countermovement jump improves - a key indicator of explosive athletic performance - your overall performance goes up.
Studies that are exclusively performed on traditional saunas, however, also show improvements in endurance.
For instance, using a traditional sauna improves overall endurance, such as "increased run time to exhaustion by 32% [...]. Plasma and red-cell volumes increased by 7.1% (5.6-8.7%) and 3.5% (-0.8% to 8.1%) respectively, after sauna relative to control."(2). In plain English, the ability to run for long periods of time improves, which can potentially be explained through an increase in the oxygen-carrying number of red blood cells.
Remember that a greater number of red blood cells, and greater quality, ensures that your body is more easily transport oxygen throughout your body, which is a precondition for energy production.
Benefit Of A Sauna After Exercise 2: Enhanced Blood Vessel Health And Microcirculation
So here's something almost everyone who exercises knows: you have to drive in more nutrients, recovery well, and sleep as long as you can!
Easier said than done!
We've all got demanding jobs, a personal life with friends and family, and would like to enjoy our lives as well. You might therefore want to cut down on recovery time as much as possible. Well, once again, infrared saunas are a solution! Let's consider why:
For instance, spending time in the sauna will expand overall blood vessel flow through decreased blood pressure and more flow into the extremities (3). Cold therapy, while generally having the opposite effect, is a very promising health modality as well. Even though cold therapy is a temporary stressor, long-term, it can have wonderful health effects.
Studies comparing either heat or cold, or a combination thereof, confirm this outcome (4).
Now here's the kicker:
If you consistently apply heat to your body, in a healthy and non-excessive way, you literally grow the smallest blood vessels in your extremities called "capillaries" (4).
The better your capillaries work, the greater your body's ability to deliver nutrients to your cells also becomes (5; 6). Translated to ordinary language, this statement means that the nutrients from the foods you're ingesting are more likely to be taken up by your cells, leading to enhanced recovery. A lot more research is needed in this area, however, but, initial results are very promising!
Moving on to the third benefit:
Benefit Of A Sauna After Exercise 3: Quicker Weight And Fat-Loss
Again, with the exception of gaming & chess sports and their kind, your body weight and fat percentage levels matter. A lot!
If you're even carrying a few pounds of excess body weight, every single movement becomes more difficult in most sports - let alone 10 or 20 pounds!
So, how can infrared saunas help? Here's the deal:
Sitting in a sauna is like low-grade cardio. In the same way that a brisk 5-kilometre walk through the forest increases your heart rate compared to when you're sitting, being in a sauna also increases your heart rate. Saunas simply demand that your heart works at a faster pace.
In fact, sitting in a traditional sauna increases your heart rate by 31-36 beats per minute even though you're doing nothing (7). Your metabolic rate also increases 25-33% during the same time, meaning you'll burn many more calories.
So, in the same way, many athletes do some (inclined) walking or biking after their workouts, saunas allow you to burn the fat off.
One caveat is that you'll have to be careful not to overapply this technique!
Whether you should go hard in your infrared saunas sessions after a workout or not all depends on your recuperation.
Here's the deal:
If you've been generally pushing your workouts really hard - and hopefully fitness trackers like a Biostrap or Oura Ring tell you you're grinding - then keep it easy with post-workout infrared saunas. On the other hand, if you're recovering very well, then using sauna sessions after your workouts are a perfect tool to burn off some excess calories while enhancing recovery.
"Enhancing recovery?!" - did I say that?
Spending time in infrared saunas can also improve how quickly you recover from workouts, by improving sleep quality, for instance:
Benefit Of Sauna After Exercise 4: You're Becoming Uber-Zen, Boost Sleep Quality, And Therefore Recover Quicker
Yes, yes, yes...
Nowadays, almost every athlete knows about boosting deep sleep! Get some sunlight exposure, wear blue-blocking glasses, take your magnesium. But did you know that just putting in the right amount of near-infrared, mid-infrared, and far-infrared, dramatically boosts your sleep quality?
Remember the "stress effect" I was just talking about regarding circulation? Well, simply put, you can do a very short session that hardly stresses you but dramatically enhances sleep quality. Why? Simple: you're exposing your body to tons of different infrared wavelengths, which all penetrate deep into your body. That infrared literally feeds your cells, increasing their metabolic efficiency, and therefore supporting almost any process in your body (8; 9; 10).
One study, for instance, applied red light - which has overlapping effects of near-infrared light - to participants for 14 days straight (13). Sleep quality, measured by a questionnaire, and the amount of melatonin recruited each night, improved.
In animal studies, the sleep enhancement effect of far infrared has also been demonstrated (13).
Many people using far infrared saunas specifically, and even better, full-spectrum infrared saunas in general, report huge improvements in their overall sleep quality because of improved relaxation. The key to gaining this benefit is to use the infrared sauna until you're relaxed but energized - don't use your unit until you're tired or exhausted!
Finishing Thoughts: Even Tiger Woods & Michael Phelps Will Benefit From Infrared Saunas For Their Recovery!
I hope you're convinced of the health benefits of saunas after exercise.
It's almost crazy that not more people are capitalizing on the sauna after exercise benefits. But, just with protein powders, or red light therapy, or meditation, I'm very sure that infrared saunas will also be added to that standard regimen of post-workout options.
Heck, in due time, you won't even be able to compete by not maximally using infrared saunas for recovery.
Here's an analogy to understand that principle:
In the same way your body needs adequate protein to maintain muscle mass and stay lean - as well as many other functions - your body also needs infrared light as a nutrient.
And while the science on infrared saunas is still in the early stages, results are already very promising. The future is bright for infrared saunas and post-workout recovery: you'll soon benefit from them in the same way elite athletes like Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps might!