Sweating, unwinding, and relaxing in the sauna after an intense workout at the gym is always a treat, as an infrared sauna session can be soothing for the mind and helpful in reducing stress levels. However, the benefits of infrared saunas extend to your body’s health and muscle recovery as well.
There are several benefits of using a sauna for muscle recovery when training, which is why Spartan CEO Joe De Sena regularly incorporates sessions in his Clearlight Infrared Sauna as part of his unbreakable training and recovery regimen. Here's how to reap the most benefits from infrared sauna sessions.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Sauna Sessions
The sauna elevates your heart rate and sweat levels, thus promoting dehydration, so drinking water and other hydrating fluids throughout (and following) sauna use is essential.
In addition to maintaining proper hydration levels, try taking a hot shower prior to sauna recovery to further relax your muscles and open up your pores. This is great practice not only for hygiene purposes, but also to prep your body for higher temperatures and sauna use. Be sure to get back in the shower after your sauna session as well to wash off any accumulated sweat that — if you sit in it all day — may cause uncomfortable acne and skin reactions.
The Benefits of Consistent Infrared Sauna Use
Here are a few sauna benefits to expect, especially if you're able to stay consistent with your sauna practice.
1. Lowers Inflammation
“Research has shown regular sauna use to be related to decreased c-reactive protein levels in the body, which are generally higher in those with chronic systemic inflammation,” board-certified sports specialist and physical therapist Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS, says.
You’ll likely realize if your c-reactive protein (CRP) levels are elevated after a doctor’s exam, when checking for cardiovascular disease risk. They might also be higher in those with autoimmune diseases or infections, so sauna use might reduce inflammation levels associated with these conditions and improve daily quality of life, performance, and training.
2. Improves Endurance Levels
You know how that wave of fatigue hits on a hot, humid day when you're training outdoors — the moment when it feels seemingly impossible to make it through your workout? If you've been on a hiatus from racing, you might be seriously deconditioned. And without the necessary endurance to persevere in hotter temperatures, you might end up skipping or shortening your training sessions, which can completely derail your progress.
“By boosting blood flow to the heart and muscles in the sauna, you’re training your body to become more effective with thermoregulatory control, which helps to maintain internal body temperature, despite outside temperatures,” Ryan Daly, a sports performance coach for professional athletes, explains.
And by having better thermoregulatory control, you’re able to cool your body down faster and more efficiently during your workout and push yourself to your very limit instead of giving up when it gets tough (which is essential for enhancing performance when training for endurance sports).
3. Improves Blood Sugar
If you’re diabetic or have to monitor your blood sugar levels, the sauna could be a handy aid in tracking and stabilizing blood sugar. (Of course, it’s also beneficial for everyone in promoting better heart health and blood sugar management.) In fact, it can be a good way to prevent the development of diabetes and avoid elevation or spikes in blood sugar — a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
“Heat stimulates the nervous system and may improve fasting blood glucose levels after some uses," Malek says. "Fasting blood glucose levels are risk markers for type 2 diabetes, so it's important to monitor this to reduce risk of developing it."
Malek explains that regular infrared sauna sessions can also increase insulin sensitivity to further promote glucose regulation, stabilize blood sugar levels, and improve diabetes management and prevention.
“High insulin sensitivity means that your cells can use insulin more effectively to reduce blood sugar,” Daly says.
4. Cardiovascular Benefits and a Healthier Heart
“Spending time in the sauna as a recovery and stress-busting tool helps to lower systemic blood pressure, especially in those with pre-existing vascular conditions or those who are at risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease,” Malek says.
Both health issues have a genetic influence, so if heart disease and high blood pressure runs in your family, sauna use might be extra helpful. Additionally, the increased blood flow and circulation that comes with regular sauna sessions can offer protection against having a stroke.
5. Enhanced Muscle Growth and Repair
The hot climate of a sauna triggers shock proteins to prevent protein degradation and promote muscle building and strength. Daly explains that heat shock proteins are proteins that are produced in response to high heat exposure and/or any temperatures above their normal growth temperature. And by having more heat shock proteins, your cells become stronger to better aid in protein synthesis and post-training muscle recovery.
“There’s an increase in net protein synthesis — the difference between protein generation and breakdown — where you can prevent muscle breakdown and boost muscle gains instead,” Shackleton says.
Incorporating infrared sauna sessions as part of your regular recovery can improve net protein synthesis and speed up muscle recovery, so that you’re maintaining and strengthening your muscles as well as repairing damaged tissue after a tough workout.
6. Improved Mood and Decreased Depression
Because the sauna reduces cortisol levels — the "stress hormone" — you’re better able to control your anxiety levels and have more peace of mind and emotional regulation. According to Daly, chronic, elevated stress can be bad for your heart and its circulation, as it may reduce and restrict healthy blood flow and increase your risk of heart disease.
Regular, consistent sauna sessions in Spartan-approved Clearlight Infrared Saunas — Spartan CEO Joe De Sena's sauna of choice — fight stress and promote relaxation to benefit vascular and circulatory health as well as increase blood flow. They also subsequently improve physical health by decreasing the prevalence of muscle cramping and pain, inflammation, poor blood flow and circulation, and muscle degradation — all of which are physical effects that can occur when you're anxious, sad, or mentally worn out. When the going gets tough, turn up the HEAT!