What's the Deal with Infrared Saunas?

Lately, we’ve been hearing more and more about Infrared Saunas. They have been around for awhile, but have popped up around the city and more often in the media. (Check out this Huffington Post article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ infrared-sauna-higher-dose-reviewus5730f198e4b0bc9cb047b745 —although they focus more on skin care than athletic performance.) The technology of the infrared sauna was first used (many years ago) in neonatal units, specially commonly in neonatal resuscitation beds.

So what’s the difference between using a regular sauna and infrared sauna? The biggest difference is that infrared heating penetrates much deeper, about 3-4cm into fat tissue and your neuromuscular system. The heat from a “regular” sauna only penetrates a few millimeters. Also, sweating occurs at a lower temperature in an infrared sauna, putting less demand on the cardiovascular system. The benefits of infrared are thought to be a result of the heat reaching the neuromuscular system and providing quicker recovery.

A study looked at the benefits of the infrared sauna vs a traditional Finnish sauna with 10 active, healthy male volunteers. They participated in 6 sauna trials each separated by 1 week. Trials included: no activity prior, a strength training session prior, and an endurance training session prior for each the infrared and traditional Finnish sauna. Measurements were taken before and after any training, as well as 30 and 60 minutes after the sauna. Measurements included an isometric bench press, isometric leg press, treadmill running, counter jump movement, heart rate, blood pressure, pH, testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone.

Results showed that there was no difference in any of the measured variables 30 minutes after the traditional sauna vs no sauna for the strength training session. For the endurance training session, the counter jump movement was significantly improved after the infrared sauna, indicating the recovery of the legs was better. Also, the heart rate was lower after the infrared sauna bathing as compared to the traditional sauna, indicating less stress on and improved recovery of the cardiovascular system.

So, there is some evidence that the infrared sauna is more beneficial in neuromuscular recovery (theoretically because of the deeper heat penetration)—not to mention more comfortable due to the lower temperature!

Mero A Tornberg J Mantykoski M Puurtinen R. “Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men”. SpringerPlus. 2015; 4(321).

Cathlin Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS, CAFS NY Custom PT & Performance 295 Madison Avenue #1026 New York, NY 10017 212-682-7860