A picture of a 4 person infrared sauna from the left side with it's front door closed. Hadcrafted by SaunaRay, and made from Canadian Basswood.

Athletic Repair: Infrared Saunas and Muscle Ache Repair

There’s no question that using a far infrared sauna feels great! It’s relaxing, and it induces a nice healthy sweat without the extreme heat of a traditional sauna. But does a far infrared sauna actually help with muscle repair?

Many elite athletes now include a FIR sauna as part of their training regimen. Particularly athletes with long careers, trying to stretch it out for one or two more seasons. They swear that their infrared saunas help them recover more quickly from injuries or intense workouts. Is there any research to back these claims up? Let’s take a look.

What is a Far Infrared Sauna?

This type of sauna uses far infrared (FIR) heating elements to provide heat. Traditional sauna heaters are red-hot and heat the room up to around 80 degrees C (175F), which is uncomfortable for most people to breathe. A far infrared sauna is able to produce the same sweat-inducing result, but at a much more comfortable temperature of around 40 degrees C (105F). You can sit inside an FIR sauna much longer because the heat is more tolerable.

How Far Infrared Sauna Light Works

Far infrared light is not visible to the human eye. It vibrates at frequencies just outside the spectrum of visible light that we see as colour.  “Infra” red simply means; “below” red, or below the human visual detection limit. If something is red-hot it means it is no longer emitting infrared heat. Red hot heaters feel repulsive. That’s why we reflexively move away from them, like when your fingers get too close to something hot. 

Infrared heaters feel welcoming. They make you want to get closer and stay longer. That’s because the frequencies at which they emit heat include the perfect wave on which water absorbs heat from the sun; 9.4 microns. Since humans are mostly water, we absorb that heat most efficiently. We also give it off all day long. It’s the heat of human warmth you feel when you’re under the covers or giving a hug. High-quality ceramic heating elements are mostly silica, which is beach sand. This reflects infrared heat so perfectly that some people say the feeling reminds them of their beach vacations. While there is a range of infrared heat emitted from natural ceramic elements, it is this frequency that is responsible for the swift absorption of heat, deep enough into the skin to trigger your sweat glands. This means you don’t need to breathe super-hot air. You just have to sit inside, in the arms of a big warm hug, close your eyes and go to the beach for a few minutes. It’s an amazing stress buster.

But does it really aid in repairing muscle aches and pains for athletes?

What the Science Says about Far Infrared Light

The research on the medical benefits of far infrared light is still pretty limited, but there have been a few studies that drew conclusions.

Doctors in Finland published a study in which they used far infrared (FIR) light with a group of high-level male athletes during recovery from their workouts, versus a control group that didn’t use FIR light. The athletes using the FIR light showed a measurable increase in their testosterone-to-cortisol levels.

Their conclusion was that FIR light does seem to improve muscle recovery, but can’t be used to replace good old-fashioned nutrition and sleep for athletic performance.

Other limited studies have shown that far infrared sauna light has improved flexibility in users. Participants in that study found that they experienced better joint mobility and reduced stiffness.

Science like that is enough to convince top athletes and physiotherapists to adopt it. After all, it can’t hurt. 

The Pros are Using It. 

Professional athletes such as the Ottawa Senators NHL Team use one in their physiotherapy department to assist recovery of injured players and get them back on the ice faster. “Injury prevention is critical for our players and the infrared heat is part of our recovery regime,” said Gerry Townend in 2007 while his team was in the Stanley Cup Final.  

In 2012 the legendary Canadian Triathlete Simon Whitfield called infrared saunas, “a valuable development in endurance training.”  Coming off the 2012 Olympics Whitfield began using an infrared sauna in his daily workout regime and proudly declared, “I’ve collapsed my recovery time to fifteen minutes.”   

That same year Olympic Gold Medallist Bobsledder Dave “Eli” MacEachern opened his first infrared heated training studio in eastern Canada. Now it’s a chain called Infrared Fitness where Eli’s unique Hot Athletica system is helping everyone from local bankers to the next generation of pro athletes to perform at their personal peak. “This is the number one way to regenerate after my workout,” says MacEachern. “I strongly recommend this for athletes trying to maximize performance.”  

Even Paul Henderson, the Legend of the Canada-Russia 1972 hockey series that captivated a generation of hockey fans, uses one at home with his wife.  

The one thing all these athletes have in common is they bought their saunas from SaunaRay because SaunaRay builds a made in Canada toxin free infrared sauna.