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Updated On: August 24, 2023
In its never-ending quest for optimizing muscle recovery, the fitness community has looked under every rock to find the be-all cure. Rollers, acupuncture, and oils, you name it, and a gym goer somewhere has tried it. One beloved and long-used method, which we'll discuss in detail in this article, is heat therapy. More specifically, sauna blankets.
While at one time, heat therapy required you to go to the gym or health clinics for access to a sauna, innovation has now made it possible to sweat anywhere, thanks to portable sauna blankets! Let’s see what the deal is with these sweat bla…we mean sauna blankets.
In this article, we'll discuss:
We'll also address some of the more nuanced subjects, such as using them for detox purposes.
Infrared sauna blankets are basically a sauna in blanket form. These portable blankets use the power of infrared rays to simulate a sauna. While they're referred to as blankets, they are much more similar to a sleeping bag.
By using infrared heat and a small enclosure, they provide similar benefits to saunas while offering a better overall experience. Some benefits include using them to relax in the privacy of your own home, dry heat that is less intense, lower temperatures, and a temperatures range you can easily control. Sounds relaxing, right? Perhaps relaxing enough to encourage more rest? Because as we know, sleep is important and critical for muscle recovery!
As mentioned, most people use the sauna. You walk in, pour water onto hot rocks, and it gets hot. Insanely hot. So hot, in fact, that many beginners can only last a few minutes before it's too much.
While you can build your tolerance up and begin to stay in a regular sauna longer each time, it still doesn't negate the waiting period for this to occur. These hotter temperatures are simply more dangerous and can easily "catch up" to those who aren't paying attention.
One of the reasons saunas get so hot is in order to work effectively, an entire room needs to be filled with steam and the heat needs to be maintained. Unfortunately, the heat fluctuates, making it hard to keep it at one specific temperature.
When using infrared sauna blankets, the temperature is much easier to control, providing a more comfortable experience. Further, infrared blanket heat is able to penetrate the skin deeper into the muscle creating a longer lasting effect, thus requiring less heat. Sounds like a great way to recover from your grueling 7 day split.
In addition, the use of dry heat can provide a greater sensation to the skin while not suffocating you with water vapor. Interested in comparing a sauna blanket to a sauna in more detail? Head to our article that compares the infrared sauna vs traditional sauna.
When using it as a muscle recovery method, many benefits are attached to using infrared sauna blankets, and saunas in general. Some of these are more exaggerated than others, but there are some legitimate benefits to using an infrared sauna blanket on a regular basis.
One thing to note before we get into the benefits. As sauna blankets are relatively new, most studies have been done using a sauna. That said, as the mechanisms are the same, it makes sense that the same benefits would be seen in both. Here's a look at the top infrared sauna blanket benefits.
One of the more compelling benefits of a sauna blanket is its impact on the cardiovascular system. Multiple studies have shown that using an infrared sauna blanket delivers amazing improvements to the cardio system, so much so that an actual decrease in mortality has been identified¹.
In short, they can help you live longer. Now imagine the possibilities when you use a sauna blanket following a low impact cardio workout? Your heart will be the happiest its ever been!
The high temperatures generated by the sauna blankets trigger the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a higher heart rate and wider blood vessels. This then translates into more blood flow and lower blood pressure.
If used on a consistent basis, the use of a sauna blanket has been found to actually decrease the risk of stroke². This is especially true in ischemic stroke, as they occur due to poor blood flow.
You know that ultra-happy, endorphin boost you get after finishing a HIIT workout? Well, if you've ever been in a sauna, you know that it can also leave you feeling amazing. A bit hot but still amazing.
This is due to the release of various hormones and chemicals that occur during times of heat. Some of these chemicals include the release of beta-endorphins which lead to euphoria and potentially lowered cortisol3,4.
The effect is so powerful that it can actually produce positive results in people with depression2.
Perhaps the most surprising benefit of sauna use we found is an increase in cognition and overall brain health.
A 2020 study found that repeated use of saunas has a measurable effect on decreasing the risk of dementia in both men and women5,6.
Interestingly, this study was built on an earlier study in 2017. While this study only looked at saunas' effect on men, it showed that in addition to decreasing the risk of dementia, the occurrence of Alzheimer's was also diminished6.
Finally, separate research examined how sauna use improves neural networks resulting in improved cognition ability7. They found favorable results, with participants participating better in auditory and reaction tasks.
One of the primary reasons athletes use saunas is due to their effect on sore muscles, also referred to as DOMS. Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence of this effect, but there are also numerous studies that show the deep penetration of infrared rays can increase the recovery of damaged muscles.
For example, one study showed improved performance in the countermovement jump after muscle-damaging endurance exercise8. However, it's important to note that no improvement was seen in maximal bench press performance or after a strength training program.
Another study found that young semi-professional football players saw an improvement in both performance and physiological variables9. A list of these improvements includes improved body composition and an increase in VO2max and maximal work capacity. These men used dry heat for 40-minute sessions 3 times a week.
Several theories on the mechanisms have been put forth to explain this phenomenon. One interesting observation is that sauna use can improve hormonal levels, including growth hormone4.
However, some studies have shown a decrease in performance in certain sports. Recent research found that sauna use actually caused a decrease in swimming performance10. While a mild decrease, it was still a negative result.
That said, you should first be focusing on the pillars of recovery. Think of saunas as more of a complementary tool to use in conjecture with the following good recovery habits, including following a proper program with an appropriate workload, having your nutrition in check by eating the right foods before a workout and after a workout, and getting enough sleep.
If all that is on point, then yes, it does seem that using a sauna blanket helps improve recovery. Now pair it with a steel mace active recovery workout and imagine how good you'll feel.
As mentioned, the health benefits we just spoke about can be attributed to steam saunas or sauna blankets. This begs the question, why would you want to buy a sauna blanket when you could likely use one for free or for a small fee at your gym?
There are actually quite a few reasons sauna blankets are advantageous to a traditional sauna at the local spa.
Unlike steam saunas which get to a temperature of 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit, a sauna blanket only gets to around 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, some sauna blankets actually make it possible to use even lower settings for beginners. Not only is this more comfortable (who wants to feel as though they're burning up after a tough leg workout?), but it's safer as well.
We've all been in a traditional sauna at the gym following a back and chest workout in which we know our muscles need a little TLC for recovery. You're by yourself with the entire spa to do as you please, and even better, you have control over the temperature.
Out of nowhere, a group of hardcore sauna users come in and dump the entire bucket on the stones. They then may or may not take off their clothes leaving you with a choice: You can try to brave the heat or just go home and settle for a hot bath.
Even if you find yourself able to sit in a traditional sauna by yourself, it's still impossible to keep a constant temperature. Further, try to raise the temp "just a bit." You can't. There seems to always be a constant fluctuation that you have little control over. And don't even think about setting it at a mild temperature.
On the other hand, you have full control over how much heat an infrared sauna blanket delivers. For example, some models like the very popular Higher Dose infrared sauna blanket have 9 settings from 68 degrees Fahrenheit all the way up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Perhaps the most persistent myth touted is that a sauna blanket can expedite weight loss. Not only is this false, but it's also extremely dangerous to use one in this fashion.
The idea that you can sweat away fat is not accurate. In addition, some claims are made that infrared rays or heat can break up the fat. This is possible with high focus heat levels, but an infrared sauna does not deliver that. It would have to get much hotter, and the person would still have to utilize the fat.
However, many users will point to combat athletes and other weight-class athletes who will use various mechanisms to expedite weight loss.
While these athletes do lose weight, it's simply water weight.
All that said, you are merely causing yourself to sweat more. If your goal is weight loss, we suggest finding a workout split that works best for you, and emphasizing nutrition, either through healthy eating, a plan like the Metabolic Confusion Diet, or following a cutting workout and diet plan.
Interested in learning more about infrared sauna blankets and weight loss? Check out our article: Is The Sauna Good For Losing Belly Fat?
There haven't been a ton of (or really even a few) studies done on the benefits of infrared sauna blankets and weight loss. After some digging, we did find one, but there were a few problems worth mentioning, including no control group in the second phase, no before or after weights, no description of the participants, and no description of their exercise or diet. It also doesn't appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study did find that participants who used a sauna blanket lost 4% body fat. Just make sure to take these results with a grain of salt as several important key components, stated above, are missing from the research study.
While there are some examples that repeated sauna use invokes an improvement in body composition, the mechanisms are not understood. For example, the men in the study above also had a better increase in muscle mass.
So while there might be a connection, it does not mean you can lay in your infrared sleeping bag watching TV and watch excess body fat melt off. You're better off following an aesthetic workout routine paired with a healthy diet if fat burning and body recomposition are your goals. What you should absolutely not do is sit under a sauna blanket for hours on end in an attempt to burn fat. It's not healthy or effective.
While your body feels amazing after using a sauna blanket, similar to what you might experience with a hot yoga class, it doesn't necessarily detox you. Your body has a series of reactions and organs that does this for you. If detox is the goal, you may be better off considering a 3 day fast instead.
But there are a few benefits that show sauna blankets help your body regulate after using the sauna blanket regularly.
Two examples include:
These findings suggest sauna blankets and sweating may help support a healthy immune system. Just make sure you are drinking enough water when you're using a sauna blanket to keep you hydrated and help flush out toxins.
Setting up an infrared sauna blanket is fairly simple and straightforward and will feel as good as following a gentle morning stretch routine. However, there are a few how-tos to address.
The good thing about using sauna blankets is that you can take them anywhere. However, you should only use them on heat-resistant material and away from water.
Further, you want the experience to be comfortable. The bed is a popular choice, or you can simply use a yoga mat. Just keep in mind you may want to lay down extra towels to catch any sweat from your skin.
One of the more common questions regarding infrared sauna blankets is how one should be dressed. Or should you? You should.
Remember that you are going to be sweating profusely. While you don't have to wear clothes, you will end up with sweat all over the inside of your sauna blanket. This creates a larger mess to clean up afterward and potentially creates more wear and tear.
To mitigate the mess, you want to wear the appropriate attire. While your clothes don't need to be skin-tight, they should be form-fitting and made from a wicking material.
Speaking of skin, you want to cover all skin that is under the blanket. Therefore, you should wear socks and long pants at a minimum. You may also want to wear a long-sleeve shirt as well.
After every use, even when wearing the proper attire, sweat is going to seep through. While sauna blankets can keep your skin fresh, that excess sweat can fester and become a breeding ground for germs.
A quick clean after every use will keep it from getting nasty and prolong the life of your sauna blanket.
The Higher Dose sauna blanket is near the top of most "best sauna blanket" lists. It's extremely high quality with a large temperature range and a bunch of other cool little functions. It’s also one of the most expensive.
Our infrared sauna blanket review, featuring the best infrared sauna blankets, lays out the best 8 infrared sauna blankets on the market. We go into a ton of detail on the benefits of the best sauna blankets in that article, but here's a brief summary of what you should look for.
The majority of people are able to fully fit into a sauna blanket relatively easily. However, if you're taller than 6'0" or so, you should double-check the length of the model you're looking at.
Keep in mind that you can bend your legs if you need to. However, you would need to consider if that would be comfortable for extended periods of time.
An infrared sauna blanket's worth is solely up to the individual needs and budget. The good thing is you can easily find a range of prices.
From budget options for less than $70 all the way up to $500+, you can find a range of prices for sauna blankets to fit your budget. Therefore, you need to consider what you can spend and whether it will be worth it.
This is huge. While it may not be the biggest benefit, it may be the most important. Most people who use a sauna blanket will be highly relaxed, and falling asleep is quite common. If this happens, you don't want a sauna blanket that just stays on. This is why having a product that can be timed to automatically shut down is vital.
This is the main function you do not want to forgo to save a few bucks.
We spoke about this above, but having a wider temperature range with various settings can be very useful. This is true for anyone from a first-time user of infrared saunas who needs a more mild temperature to an advanced user that wants options.
Because you can adjust the temperature with a remote control, you can stay in full control while staying under the blanket sauna. This sounds much more appealing than needing to get up and pour water on rocks.
One of the issues with many fitness products is the marketing used to sell them. Wild and exaggerated claims are made that most people can see through, resulting in skepticism.
But the exaggerated claims don't take away from the validity of the actual, proven benefits.
You only have one body, and using an infrared sauna blanket is a simple and effective method of self-care, which can help with everything from improving your cardiovascular system to boosting your mood to improving muscle recovery.
Interested in experiencing these sauna blanket benefits for yourself? Take a look at our article on the best infrared sauna blankets to find the perfect one for you!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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