types of thermotherapy and benefits

3 Types of Heat Therapy (Benefits For Fitness & Which One is Best)

February 24, 2019

After a long and intense workout, you head to the locker room, walk by the mirrors (quite possibly flex on 'em), take your post-workout supplements, walk past the sauna to the showers, then you shower, change, and head out to start (or finish) your day.

But, what if you take an extra 15-20 minutes and put your already exhausted self into the sauna? It's something that crosses most people's minds...Tempting, huh? 

However, even as tempting as it is, many people decide to skip that post-workout sauna session.

If that's you, you are missing out on myriad health and wellness benefits that come with frequent thermotherapy (in this case, heat therapy) sessions. 

If you have been wondering...

"Should I hit the sauna after the gym?"
"How long should I use the sauna, steam room or hot tub?"
"What are the benefits of saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs?"
"How often should I do heat therapy sessions?"
"What type of heat therapy is best?"

...then we have the answers for you. This article will tell you everything you need to know about full-body thermotherapy. 

types of thermotherapy

HEAT THERAPY

Heat therapy is an ancient practice that can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. The practice of thermotherapy wasn't limited to these two civilizations either. From England, all the way to China and Japan, heat therapy has been a form of rehabilitation, treatment, and relaxation for countless centuries. Each culture had its own form of heat therapy, from mud baths to hot springs, to smoke houses, and more. Because of this, heat therapy is an activity that's ingrained into modern human society. 

Nowadays, although we have advanced methods and technology, the basic nature of each type of heat therapy is essentially the same as it was for our ancestors. 

Heat therapy is getting even more attention as of late with all the studies proving the plethora of benefits. The benefits relate to our overall health, well-being, recovery, and performance, and they extend far and wide in each of these areas. 

With that being said, here are 3 types of full-body heat therapy that most people can gain easy access to, and the benefits that come with them. At the end of this article, we have chosen our favorite type of heat therapy, and we also provide a heat therapy "workout" that you can implement into your routine on a weekly basis. 

HEAT THERAPY - METHOD 1: SAUNA

dry sauna benefits

A saunas session is an incredible way to start (or end the day) or hit just after a workout. If you don’t own a sauna, most gyms have them. So you can use the sauna at your local health club after you finish a workout.

All you need are three things, your body, a towel, and self-control. Enjoy sauna sessions by engaging in deep breathing, and for the more advanced, focused movements (even yoga) 3-4 times a week and enjoy the numerous benefits.

INFRARED SAUNA VS TRADITIONAL SAUNA (HOW IT WORKS)

Both methods are great, and for many, it comes down to personal preference. With that being said, knowing how they work will give you a better understanding of each, thus helping you decide which one you prefer.

Dry Sauna

how to use a sauna

Dry saunas use electricity to heat up a small room made of soft wood, but they can also use hot rocks. They work by heating the room, which then heats the surface of the skin, thereby warming the underlying muscles and tissues.

Dry saunas are HOT, typically around 176-194 degrees Fahrenheit (80-90 Celsius). With that being said, some people like them even hotter. Tony Robbin says he likes a more intense and short-lived experience, heating his sauna up to 212 degrees F (100 degrees C). In any case, be sure to take off your wristwatch because that puppy is going to burn.

In regards to humidity, pending no one is tossing water on the stones (or no idiot is tossing water on the electric burner), the dry sauna is around 10% humidity.

Infrared sauna

benefits of infrared sauna vs dry sauna

Infrared saunas are extremely popular these days and they work differently than dry saunas, although both traditional dry and infrared saunas share many of the same benefits.

With that being said, here’s how an infrared sauna differs (both near and far infrared saunas). Firstly, infrared sauna rooms aren’t as hot, by a long shot. The ideal temperature range is between 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit (with essentially no humidity), but you can go as low as 120 F. You might be thinking, it’s not nearly as hot as a dry sauna, it can’t be as effective. You’d be wrong with that thinking. Being less hot isn’t an issue, at all. Why? Because infrared saunas work differently than dry saunas.

Instead of heating the air surrounding you, as a dry sauna does, infrared saunas radiate heat directly to your body, similar to the way the sun heats up your body. It’s more efficient as your body absorbs 93% of the heat produced from the carbon fiber heaters. It penetrates deeper within. So put that high heat ego to the side when it comes to infrared saunas, they are extremely effective. In fact, they offer a few more benefits, according to recent studies, than traditional dry saunas.

infrared sauna vs dry sauna

Who wins? Both saunas are great for health benefits, being social, and simple relaxation, AND, both will have you sweating profusely. If you are looking to spend more time in the sauna, go for an infrared sauna. If you want a quicker and more intense experience, go for the dry.

How Long Should You Stay In a Dry and Infrared Sauna (Minimum & Maximum Time) AND How Many Days Per Week?

Dry saunas are effective from 10-20 minutes. If you are a beginner, limit your time to 10 minutes until you get used to it. Even more experienced sauna users shouldn’t exceed 20-25 minutes in a dry sauna.

At any time, if you start to feel nauseous, dizzy or like it’s hard to breathe, get out immediately. This could be a sign that your body is overheating and dehydration or exhaustion is taking hold. It’s always best to drink a bunch of water before starting your session.

Regarding how many days per week, you can use the dry sauna as many as 3 times a week (preferably every other day, not three days in a row). However, even one day a week will allow you to cash in on the benefits.

Infrared saunas allow users to spend more time in the room. Due to the nature of the infrared sauna, you can spend around 20-30 minutes in the sauna after you begin to break a sweat. Experienced users average around 25-45 minutes per session. When it comes to infrared saunas, you can also do them more often, in fact, you can do it once every single day. We recommend around 3-4 times a week to experience all the incredible benefits.

SAUNA BENEFITS (Shared Benefits of Both Dry & Infrared Saunas)

benefits of thermotherapy

Saunas are an incredible performance enhancer. Here are the reasons why…

  • Longevity: Increased lifespan with less risk for sudden cardiac arrest and fatal coronary heart disease.
  • Relieves arthritis, joint paint and even recurring headaches.
  • Reduces muscle soreness.
  • Increases lean muscle mass.
  • Improves immune system: brings up white blood cell count and therefore the integrity of the immune system.
  • Capillary circulation: Boosts blood flow to skin tissues, thereby improving skin color, tone, and skin repair.
  • Great for skin cleansing.
  • Helps with insomnia and enhancing deep sleep, which is crucial for brain function and memory (Importance of Sleep - This is a Must Read)
  • Boosts endurance performance by increasing red blood cell production.
  • Improves nutrient delivery to muscles and reduces the depletion of glycogen (carb) storage.
  • Increases stress resilience by creating heat shock protein, releasing endorphins, and relaxing the muscles, therefore calming the body and mind.
  • Helps keep a lower heart rate and core temperature when it comes time for intense workouts.
  • Improves muscle hypertrophy through the prevention of protein degradation.
  • Releases growth hormones (gotta love this one especially).
  • Helps with insulin sensitivity.
  • Said to promote the growth of new brain cells, which improves your ability to retain information, and decreases specific types of anxiety and depression.
  • Link to a reduced chance of dementia (studies show Finnish men, the land where the sauna originated, who use saunas regularly have a much lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease).
  • Clears congestion.
  • Holistic experience, offering a feeling of well-being, physically, mentally and for some, spiritually.
  • Can speed up the metabolism and burn fat by increasing fat oxidation.
  • Detoxification of heavy metals and other toxic elements and chemicals (you’ll be surprised how many ways heavy metals can get into your skin - i.e. simply swimming in freshwater lakes near mines).
  • Longevity: Temperature shock can work as an anti-aging effect. 
Extra Benefits of Infrared Saunas:

There are a few extra benefits that come with infrared saunas according to recent studies.

  • Infrared saunas produce more benefits for brain function as they increase prolactin, which causes people’s brains to function faster through the enhancement of myelination (lipid-rich substance found in the central nervous system) and by helping to repair damaged neurons.
  • Greatly reduce blood pressure.
  • Can burn much more fat. As much as 600 calories in a half-hour session.
  • Better more efficient detoxification process as the heats you from the inside out rather than the outside in (like an oven), and the penetration of heat into the skin is much deeper.

Although dry saunas have effects that correlate to these kinds of benefits, infrared saunas are proving to directly affect users in these positives ways. Note: most research regarding saunas in the athletic field is done using infrared.

Other types of Saunas:

There are a few other saunas. We kept most of our information in this article to the two most popular saunas (dry and infrared), however, here are two others that we think are pretty damn cool.

Barrel Saunas

heat therapy benefits

Great for your backyard (or home in general). You can set up your barrel sauna to have an incredible view while having a sauna session (depending on where you live). They are charming, as they are aesthetically pleasing, and installation is pretty simple.

Smoke Sauna

benefits of sauna after workout

This is one that you likely won’t find without heading over to Finland. It has a wood-burning stove and no chimney. The sauna is heated by burning wood under big rocks for many hours. After the room is hot enough, the room is ventilated and ready for use. This type of sauna dates way back, as it is an original method used by the Finnish. 

HEAT THERAPY - METHOD 2: STEAM ROOM

how long to stay in steam room

Steam rooms provide a lot of the same benefits as saunas. In a steam room, the temperature usually doesn’t exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, but due to the very high humidity, it feels just as hot as a dry sauna and you will sweat just as much too (if not more).

You could put steam rooms into a class of saunas, however, we think of it more as a mix of sauna and hydrotherapy.

Benefits of Steam Rooms

The benefits of steam rooms can all be achieved in saunas, such as boosting the immune system, loosening stiff joints, aiding workout recovery, promoting skin health, clearing congestion, reducing stress, improving sleep, helping blood circulation, and sweating at this rate is great for detoxifying water-based organs.

People choose steam rooms over a sauna simply because they enjoy this steamy type of heat therapy. It has a very therapeutic feel when you step into a room full of haze.

steam room benefits after workout

Dangers of Steam Rooms

The only reason we would choose a sauna over a steam room, religiously, is in public places. Why? Well, because you can be sure of how well the health facility filters the water that’s being pumped into the sauna. There have been cases of gyms not filtering properly and people are unknowingly breathing in fluoride, chlorine and other things like pharmaceuticals. It’s likely not the case for most gyms, but you really can’t be sure. If you have one at your home, and you can control any mold or fungi, it’s a pretty great option. For these same reasons, though, it’s also not ideal to install a steam room in your home. You really need to be thorough with caring for your steam room. A sauna would make more sense if you want something for the house.

HEAT THERAPY - METHOD 3: Hydrotherapy (Hot Tubs/Jacuzzis)

jacuzzi benefits

Hot tubs are also a great form of heat exposure therapy.

Hot tubs shouldn’t exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit and you shouldn't spend more than 15 minutes in a hot tub.

Benefits of a Hot Tub/Jacuzzis 

Hot tubs offer some of the same benefits that saunas do, such as improving sleep, improving blood circulation, alleviating rheumatoid arthritis, congestion, headaches, and joint pain, reducing anxiety and stress, and inducing quality sleep. Hot tubs are said to be the best for relaxing the muscles and as they have jets, so you can get a nice massage in. They also decrease blood sugar levels.

benefits of hot tub therapy

Sauna vs Hot Tub For the House

When it comes to purchasing a sauna or hot tub for your home. A sauna requires less maintenance, but it’s harder to install. A sauna can add value to your home, and a hot tub doesn’t (bummer, right?). Hot tubs, in our opinion, win on the family time front, as they are more bearable and can make for a really relaxing time together (not that saunas can’t, but in general, we think of saunas as a type of thermotherapy and hot tubs more as chill time).

Sauna vs Hot Tubs/Jacuzzis in general

Both hot tubs/jacuzzis and saunas provide wonderfully therapeutic heat to the body for relaxation and can offer a sense of well-being, alleviate muscle soreness and body pains. Saunas have a wider range of benefits, and they trump hot tubs in regards to most of the shared benefits, with the exception of muscle relaxation.

WHICH HEAT EXPOSURE THERAPY METHOD DO WE CHOOSE?

SAUNAS, without a doubt. They provide the most shock to the body as the temperature is the highest and they offer more benefits, which has been proven through pretty hardcore studies. They can increase core temperature in a shorter time, and they offer dramatically more benefits for improving athletic performance.

As for which type of saunas, we choose infrared, which should be clear after reading this. However, dry are great when you really want to feel the “pain” heat can induce (more mentally challenging, which is great in our opinion). With that being said, infrared’s slight superiorness makes it an easy choice among the two. It expedites detoxification, heats the tissues several inches deep (not just on the surface), greatly enhances the metabolic processes and blood circulation, AND it helps to oxygenate your tissues better.

types of heat therapy

Potential risks of heat therapy

Too much time in the sauna, steam room, or jacuzzi can lead to dehydration, as you are sweating out tons of water in your body. It also has been stated that too much time in heat exposure can lead to a decrease in fertility in men. However, if you practice heat exposure for the correct amount of time and you stay hydrated, you can feel safe knowing that you are doing a major service to your body and overall well-being, especially in a sauna ;)

Infrared Sauna Workout:

FIRSTLY, NEVER DO THIS BEFORE A GYM WORKOUT. THIS IS A POST-WORKOUT SAUNA “WORKOUT”

If you only have access to a dry sauna, then use the times in the parenthesis.

We are assuming you are just getting into sauna heat therapy, or just getting back into it.

Week 1: 2 sessions a few days apart.

  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water.
  • 20-minute session, if needed, take a 1-2 minute break at the 10-minute mark. (10 min session, break if needed at 5 min mark)
  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water
  • Cold shower for 1-3 minutes then warm shower to finish up.

Week 2: 2 sessions a few days apart.

  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water.
  • 25-minute session, if needed, take a 1-2 minute break at the 12.5-minute mark. (12.5 min session, break if needed at 5 min mark)
  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water
  • Cold shower for 1-3 minutes then warm shower to finish up.

Week 3: 3 sessions, every other day (2 sessions a few days apart)

  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water.
  • 25-minute session, if needed, take a 1-2 minute break at the 12.5-minute mark. (15 min session, break if needed at 7.5 min mark)
  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water
  • Cold shower for 1-3 minutes then warm shower to finish up.

Week 4: 3 sessions, every other day (2 sessions a few days apart)

  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water.
  • 30-minute session, if needed, take a 1-2 minute break at the 15-minute mark. (17.5 min session, break if needed at 9 min mark)
  • Drink 2-4 cups of cold or room-temp water
  • Cold shower for 1-3 minutes then warm shower to finish up.

From here, continually build up until you can reach the max recommended times, which are:

Infrared: 30-40 mins (no break) 3-5 times a week (every day is ok as well, but breaks are good for your body, similar to working out)

Dry: 20 mins (no break) 2-4 times a week (every other day).

Tip for sauna sessions:
  • Drink plenty of water beforehand.
  • Practice good breathing techniques.
  • If you can’t make it to your set time, take a break, refresh, and go back in to complete the time OR simply call it a day and try again next time. Always listen to your body.

Let us know which type of thermotherapy you prefer and why in the comment section below.



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.