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How Long Should You Sauna For Sore Muscles?

Sauna use is known best for its benefits on mental well-being and relaxation. Still, new and emerging research shows that it is equally as beneficial in treating post-workout muscle soreness, muscle tension and pain relief. While the exact length of time is still being researched, studies show that 30 minutes in an infrared sauna at 55ºC, four times a week over a three-week period is effective for sore muscle benefits. Results indicate that infrared heat could be a beneficial addition to post-workout recovery and sports physical therapy, as infrared heat helps boost blood flow and blood circulation, and reduce inflammation in sore muscles. Let’s look at this topic and determine whether you should sauna before or after your next workout.
The blog post referenced a clinical study that employed a cabin sauna and measured its temperature to shed light on the practical applications of sauna use and the consequent outcomes. The temperature of the sauna cabin does not offer the benefits, it is the increase in the body’s core temperature that does, which is facilitated by the cabin temperature as a controlled variable.

Benefits of the Sauna after Workout: When should you use the sauna?

Yes, using an infrared sauna post-workout is more beneficial than using an infrared sauna pre-workout. This is true for many reasons and in almost every instance regardless if your goal is muscle recovery, improved cardiovascular function or strength improvements. The reason sauna bathing post-strenuous exercise is more beneficial for your muscles than pre-exercise is that the increased blood flow and blood circulation carries nutrient-rich blood (oxygen-rich blood) to areas needing repair while simultaneously shifting blood that is full of metabolic waste material and toxins. Here are the main mechanisms why you should sauna immediately afterward – not before your next workout.

A List of the Benefits of Sauna After a Workout

Improved Muscle Recovery

One of the most significant benefits of a sauna after a workout is improved muscle recovery. During a workout, your muscles produce lactic acid, which can cause muscle soreness and fatigue. However, when you enter a sauna after a workout, the infrared heat helps increase blood flow and circulation, which can help remove lactic acid from your muscles and promote faster recovery.

Increased Flexibility

Another benefit of a sauna after a workout is increased flexibility. The heat and humidity levels in a sauna can help relax muscles, making them more pliable and easier to stretch. This increased flexibility can help reduce the risk of injury and improve your overall performance during future workouts.

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response of your body to injury or damage. However, excessive inflammation can delay the healing process and increase the risk of chronic diseases. Infrared sauna can help reduce inflammation by increasing blood flow and promoting the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines. This can help improve your overall health and well-being.

Increased Endurance

Saunas can also help increase your endurance and stamina. When you enter a sauna, your heart rate increases, simulating a cardiovascular workout. Therefore, using a sauna benefits heart health and future endurance training sessions.

Cons of using Traditional Finnish Sauna Bathing before a Workout

Traditional sauna has been proven to be bad for you if used before your workout. This is primarily believed to be because of the stress load that a sauna room has on the skin and neuromuscular system. One study investigated the acute effects of different exercise loadings followed by traditional sauna bathing on neuromuscular performance and serum hormone concentrations in recreationally physically active men.

The three types of exercise loadings examined were:

  1. Endurance Training
  2. Strength Training
  3. And combined endurance and strength exercises.

The study found that the strength exercise followed by a sauna (30 minutes – 24 hours afterwards) measures lower body power and neuromuscular performance. The levels of three hormones in the body (testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone) increased after exercise, and interestingly the sauna had no effect on the increase of hormone production straight after exercise.

While sauna bathing has many health benefits after your workout, it is clear that heat therapy shouldn’t be used directly before your training.

Are Saunas Good for Athletes?

Athletes everywhere are discovering the benefits of infrared saunas for treating injuries and accelerating their post-workout recovery times. Studies suggest infrared light penetrating below the skin can reduce muscle pain and speed up healing processes by expanding blood vessels and increasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, which produces more red blood cells to form erythropoietin (EPO).

EPO naturally helps improve a person’s endurance performance, allowing athletes to train longer with less interruption caused by their injuries. The infrared heat in the sauna also boosts circulation to help eliminate lactic acid build-up while increasing temperature in muscles and joints, creating direct stimulation that helps target underlying conditions like inflammation. As infrared saunas continue to become more popular among athletes, they are tapping into their power to not only aid in muscle soreness relief but also provide joint pain relief, improving overall cardiovascular health.

Is Sauna Good for Muscle Growth?

Yes, sauna therapy is good for muscle growth because of its ability to boost EPO production and regulate hormones such as human growth hormone. Infrared sauna can also regulate insulin levels, improve blood pressure and even increase the plasma volume and red blood cell count. These sauna health benefits have research that even suggests that infrared sauna users tend to live longer than those who don’t – due to sudden cardiac death. Exercise physiologist Dr Stacy Sims even states that infrared sauna training can provide a significant 2-3% performance boost for athletes. As well as being great for muscle growth, a sauna burns calories for additional fat loss and health improvements. Incorporating infrared saunas into a workout routine, such as the Nitric Oxide Dump workout, is a fantastic way to further enhance the benefits of both exercise and sauna.

How Long Should you Sauna for Sore Muscles?

According to research, using a sauna for 30 minutes is the optimal amount of time spent inside an infrared sauna for sore muscles. For recovery, using a sauna should be conducted post-workout at temperatures of 55ºC at least 3-5 times a week. Let’s look at the results of some studies.

Is using a Sauna Good for Muscle Recovery?

One study looked at the effects of using a far-infrared sauna for recovery from exercise. Ten healthy men conducted a strength or endurance training session, followed by 30-minute far infrared sauna bathing at a 35-50°C temperature that offered a comfortable and relaxing experience. The men then sat in a normal room at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

The researchers tested the men’s muscle strength, jump ability, and ability to use oxygen during exercise before and after the training and sauna sessions. They found that the men were able to jump higher after using the infrared sauna compared to sitting at room temperature. They also found that the men’s heart rate was lower after using an infrared sauna compared to using a traditional Finnish sauna.

The research suggests that infrared therapy can help people recover from endurance exercise, making it easier for their muscles and lungs to work properly. The FIRS sauna also feels comfortable and relaxing.

Is using a Sauna Good for Endurance Recovery?

Yes, a sauna is extremely good for endurance training as shown in the following study. Six male distance runners completed three weeks of post-exercise sauna bathing and three weeks of control training, with a three-week break in between. During the sauna period, the runners sat in a humid sauna at a temperature of approximately 90ºC for 30 minutes immediately after exercise, and they did this about 13 times over the three weeks.

The researchers found that after the sauna period, the runners’ performance on a 15-minute treadmill run to exhaustion improved by 32% compared to the control period. This improvement in performance is equivalent to approximately a 1.9% increase in an endurance time trial. The runners’ plasma volume (the liquid part of the blood) increased by about 7%, and their red blood cell volume increased by about 3% after sauna bathing. The study concluded that the increase in blood volume due to the sauna is likely what led to improved endurance performance.

How to use a Sauna for Sore Muscles, Muscle Recovery and Athletic Performance

  • Taking a cold shower before and after using the sauna can help reduce inflammation and promote recovery in muscles.
  • Using an infrared sauna is recommended as it operates at a lower temperature than traditional ones, and infrared heat penetrates deeper with infrared rays.
  • It’s important not to overdo it – limit your sessions to no more than 4-5 times per week.
  • Prior to entering the sauna, ensure that you’re well-hydrated and feeling fit and healthy. Severe muscle cramps may be due to dehydration or inadequate salt levels.
  • Depending on experience level, users should spend between 15-45 minutes inside the sauna before exiting for 10 minutes of additional stretching prior to taking a cold shower afterwards.
  • During your 30-minute post-workout infrared sauna sessions, practice stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation and stretching.

How to use a Sauna for Athletes for Sports

  • Heat acclimatisation strategies are necessary for optimal performance in hot temperatures; women need twice as many sessions to get the same results as their male peers.
  • If prepping for an athletic event, wear breathable layers of clothing during workouts; apply a sauna protocol with 9 total sessions over 5-6 days; use cold showers or baths before events; drink icy beverages prior to exertion; and drape moist towels on the skin instead of using ice packs.

What Sauna is Best for Muscle Recovery?

If you’re looking for quick relief from muscle aches, the best sauna is an infrared sauna. Infrared saunas have the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin with far infrared light than other types of heat treatments, like traditional saunas and steam rooms. This helps reduce soreness and increase blood circulation with in-visible light, allowing more blood to contain oxygen, perfect for muscle aches. However, studies have also found that regular use of a sauna briefly lowers sperm count in men, but it does not reduce sperm function.

Who Shouldn’t Use a Sauna?

Anyone with chest pain, high blood pressure and even mild heart failure should seek medical advice before using a sauna. Stable heart disease or any life-threatening condition caused by the heart should not use the sauna.

A Winner for Recovery: Infrared Heat Improves Blood Circulation and more!

Although it’s important to stay mindful of the optimal length of time you should be in the heat, regular use of this therapeutic method can do wonders. Heat boosts blood flow throughout your body, thus speeding up recovery and reducing inflammation. Not only that but using a sauna on a regular basis can drastically improve your overall well-being. Just remember to start out with shorter sessions and gradually increase over a series of weeks while keeping yourself hydrated so you can benefit most from your saunas!

Adapted from Clearlight Saunas