Questions? Call us at  1-800-979-8971

Recover Faster After Workouts: A New Study Reveals Infrared Saunas As Highly Effective Muscle Recovery Tools

Professional athletes who depend on the speed of recovery post workout for the purpose of peak performance will certainly benefit from incorporating infrared sauna use directly after training sessions. Even individuals who are not professional athletes, but are still lifting weights several times a week and engaging in cardiovascular training, will benefit from the use of infrared saunas directly after their workout. 

A recent study published in 2023 reveals that an infrared sauna can help improve heart rate variability and even faster muscle recovery when taken directly after exercise was performed. Including a 20 minute infrared sauna session after your run, or after resistance training could help prevent injury, improve heart health, and even help define muscle groups for aesthetic purposes. 

How to use an infrared sauna after a workout instead of a steam room or a traditional sauna? 

Discover more of the details of this eye opening study so that you can learn to optimize your exercise and sauna partnership to give you the best possible results. In addition, find out how infrared light interacts with the body’s muscular system to make this the most impactful type of sauna to take post workout. Even if you are hoping to look your best for this summer’s beach season you will want to know how infrared saunas can help give your body greater muscular definition when used directly after your workout session. 

Study Details: How  Basketball Players Discovered Infrared Saunas to be a Critical Component in Post Workout Protocol

A study published in 2023 entitled: ‘A post-exercise infrared sauna session improves recovery of neuromuscular performance and muscle soreness after resistance exercise training’ (1) reveals how infrared sauna use post workout can positively improve overall muscle recovery, as well improve heart rate variability. 

This study had 16 participants all of whom were elite level male basketball players. The study focused on recovery after weight lifting sessions, or ‘ resistance exercise protocol’, as well as cardiovascular training during a different segment of the trial. The players were divided into two groups. The first group took a 20 minute infrared sauna session after their workout (sauna temperature was set to between 104-140 degrees Fahrenheit), while the second group engaged in passive recovery.

These are the exercises that the players did during training:

  1. Back squat 3 × 3 + CMJ 3 × 3 (90–95% 1RM; 1 min rest between squat and jump, 3 min rest between sets)
  2. Nordic hamstring curl 3 × 5 + standing long jump 3 × 3 (maximal effort; 1 min rest between curl and jump, 3 min rest between sets)
  3. Leg press 3 × 3 + box jump (90–95% 1RM; 1 min rest between leg press and jump, 3 min rest between sets) (1)

Immediately after the workout the first group entered an infrared sauna for 20 minutes, while the second group rested in a room that was neither heated or cooled. 

The second trial used the same group of athletes and focused on post cardiovascular exercise recovery. The athletes either jumped rope, or engaged in running exercises to elevate heart rate. The same procedure was repeated for recovery. The first group used an infrared sauna for 20 minutes, and the second group rested in a non-heated or cooled room. 

The results demonstrated a generous and clinically significant difference in the participants who did use the infrared sauna versus those who did not. This suggests that individuals will recover neuromuscularly at faster rates as well as improve overall heart rate variability if they use an infrared sauna directly after a workout. In the words of the study’s authors, here are the results:

“A single post-exercise IRS session improved recovery of explosive strength capacities and decreased subjective muscle soreness one day after resistance exercise. In addition, a single IRS session had no detrimental effects on acute recovery of the autonomic nervous system or sleep quality, but conversely increased subjective perceived recovery the following morning. The improved recovery could indicate a better readiness to train and compete. Thus, IRS could be a practically useful recovery method for athletes since it is safe and relatively easy to integrate into athletes’ training routines.”

So, why was an infrared sauna so effective in repairing muscles after a workout? Would the same results be present after a different form of heat therapy? Why use an infrared sauna after a workout instead of a steam room or a traditional sauna? 

The Study As Shown Graphically:

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is JBS-40-119289-g001.jpg(1)

“As IR heat penetrates deeper under the skin than warm air, it may transmit heat to muscles, blood vessels, and nerves more effectively , which may attenuate tissue temperature loss, facilitate muscle circulation and metabolism, and reduce peripheral nerve excitability.” (1)

Why Use An Infrared Sauna Post Workout Instead of a Steam Room or Traditional Sauna?

It is significant that infrared saunas were used during this study, and have subsequently been incorporated into many elite level athletes’ recovery routine. The nature of the source of heat in an infrared sauna is actually invisible wavelengths of light, which means that radiant heat is used. Traditional saunas rely on convection heat to increase the temperature of the room, this heat is then transferred to the body. It is difficult to increase internal temperatures in a heated space as effectively as the body absorbing wavelengths of infrared light. 

According  peer reviewed journal states the following about infrared heat: 

“It is believed that radiated infrared heat penetrates deeper into human tissues, such as muscle tissue, than convection of heated air.” (2)

Conversely, studies that used traditional saunas instead of infrared saunas found that the inverse effects applied to athletic performance: 

“A traditional sauna bathing session with and without prior exercise was found to decrease strength capacities for 24 hours during recovery.” (3)

These results could potentially be problematic for individuals who rely on their ability to be ready for training sessions, and especially for athletic performance. Furthermore, for swimmers the following was found:

“In addition, taking a traditional sauna after swimming was found to impair swimming performance the following morning. These negative effects have not been found with the IRS.” (1,4,5)

Given the origin of heat in an infrared sauna compared to a traditional sauna, the infrared light has a vastly different effect on muscle recovery. This does not mean that traditional saunas and steam rooms are not beneficial for health, in fact to the contrary, these types of saunas boast many health benefits that cannot be discounted. If, however, an individual is specifically looking to support their muscular system and neuromuscular health then the data is very clear that an infrared sauna will be far more effective than other saunas, and significantly better for recovery than using no heat therapy at all. 

In fact, for many it may be better to consider an infrared sauna more as a ‘light therapy bath’, as the body is bathed in the light frequency of infrared wavelengths. Moreover, the above mentioned study had some athletes setting the infrared sauna temperature to as low as 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and still saw positive results and this is because of the ability of infrared light to impact cellular function beyond just fast twitch muscles, but deep into the soft tissues of the body. The publication discusses the particular aspects of why infrared light is so effective in muscle recovery (even without high heat): 

“…the positive effect of IR on neuromuscular performance can be attributed to deeper heat penetration, that upon reaching the neuromuscular system  elicits positive effects on the function of fast-twitch muscle fibers, located predominantly in the superficial layers of the muscle. Furthermore, it has been speculated that IR could alter cell membrane potentials…” (1)

If you would like to begin using an infrared sauna as a portion of your post workout protocol, you will find a helpful recipe below.

How To Incorporate Sauna Use Into Your Recovery Routine

Whether you are going out for a long run, interval training, or engaged in resistance training, you will want to make sure that you can get into a sauna as soon as possible after your workout is complete. Unlike other sauna protocols that aim to detoxify the body (though it is speculated that infrared saunas may help in the expulsion of lactic acid post workout), you will not need to take a long sauna. The protocol for  professional athletes, amateurs,  or recreational participants in resistance and cardiovascular training can follow the same protocol to produce positive results during recovery. Here is a basic recipe to follow:

  1. End of your training session near to an available infrared sauna
  2. Set aside 20 minutes when you can lay or sit in a sauna. 
  3. You do not need to preheat your sauna as it is the presence of light frequency that will be of significance.
  4. You may set the temperature of your sauna between 104-140 degrees fahrenheit.
  5. Hydrate very well before and during your workout and after your sauna session. There should be some source of electrolytes available in addition to water.

If you are using a sauna for the specific purposes of achieving high performance in athletics, or simply to recover faster after a lifting session, remember that it is the infrared light that does the trick, not the high heat. You may choose to sauna to achieve other goals, however for recovery purposes you just need 20 minutes very soon after the completion of your workout, and a relatively low heat. 

Recover Faster After a Workout With Infrared Sauna Use

With faster recovery comes more opportunities for training. You can begin to actively improve your recovery turn over with infrared sauna use. Ultimately this will help to heal the body, and very specifically the muscles which will allow you to get back on the field, track, mat, or whatever your discipline requires sooner. For many athletes this is a crucial element to reaching high performance and something your competitors may already be using!

Even if you exercise to stay healthy and just for fun it is still worthwhile to make sure your muscles have an adequate recovery after each workout. So, if you do have an infrared sauna available to you, consider replicating the study using basketball players to improve your overall performance and safety. 

Always prioritize hydration and this means drink fluids around the clock, and make sure that you are replenishing with electrolytes as well as with mineral and vitamin rich foods. 

Stay safe, well hydrated, and if you require the assistance of a training or medical professional always double check your new protocols with them to suit your individual health and wellness needs. 

Sources Cited:


CTA for shop page