From Heat to Cold: Pairing Infrared Saunas with Ice Baths for Maximum Recovery

From Heat to Cold: Pairing Infrared Saunas with Ice Baths for Maximum Recovery

There are a multitude of unique benefits to using an infrared sauna or an ice bath; however, you can gain even more by combining them. This concept is contrast therapy, where you go from an extremely hot environment to an extremely cold one. It can support improved muscle recovery, lower inflammation and pain and shorten the downtime between workouts. 

It isn’t just elite athletes who engage in contrast therapy. Combining the benefits of infrared saunas and ice baths can be an amazing option for everyday people, too. 

The Foundations of Contrast Therapy

Contrast therapy involves using both heat and cold in quick succession to gain greater benefits than you would using either one alone. Consider how you feel after a hot shower. Typically, your heart rate may be slightly elevated, you may notice your skin has flushed, and you feel more relaxed afterwards. This reaction stems from your circulatory system trying to cool you down when you’re in a hot and damp environment, which is wonderful for promoting muscle relaxation and recovery. 

By contrast, when you plunge into a pool or the sea on a cold day, you’ll often have a sharp intake of breath just as you hit the water, and you may notice your skin looks more pale or bumpy from the low temperature. These reactions are a combination of your nervous system and circulatory system acting together, which are working together to conserve body heat. 

By combining both of these actions, you can help increase circulation throughout your body, reduce swelling and promote the removal of lactic acid after a strenuous workout. This is beneficial for those who engage in sports regularly and is also a wonderful aid for people with issues like joint pain or even stress. 

Boosting Circulation: The Hot-Cold Cycle

The reason that blood flow changes when you’re exposed to heat or cold is due to the capillaries that carry blood throughout your body. When you’re hot, they’ll expand and rise to the surface to help diffuse heat through your skin. When you get cold, they’ll constrict to help conserve heat. 

By starting out in a hot environment, your heart will start pumping to try and cool you down, improving circulation throughout your whole body. When you then switch to cold therapy after an infrared sauna, that process will reverse. You can switch between the two, triggering both your parasympathetic nervous system and circulatory system to increase and then restrict blood flow. 

By doing short intervals in the heat, followed by a minute in the cold, you’ll experience a greater breakdown of lactic acid in your muscles, along with less swelling in sore joints and tissues. 

Mental Resilience: Training the Mind with Extremes

Aside from the physiological benefits of decreasing recovery time, the benefits of combining infrared saunas and ice baths can also extend to your mental well-being. 

Going from a comfortable and warm environment like an infrared sauna to a chilly ice bath can be a challenge. It takes mental fortitude to get yourself into that icy water. However, over time, you may find that the exhilaration you get from stepping into an ice bath makes you feel more alert and can even result in improved mood and better sleep too. The reason is that when you go from one extreme to the other, your body releases endorphins, which are the same happy hormones that your brain is also flooded with after exercise. 

Guidelines for Safe and Effective Contrast Therapy

If you’re starting out with contrast therapy, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure it’s both beneficial and safe for your body. First, you’ll want to make sure you’re starting off in the heat rather than the cold. To ease yourself into it for the first few sessions, we recommend setting your infrared sauna at around 40℃. You can then set your ice bath up and aim for around 15℃. Rather than doing a full sauna session for 30 minutes like you normally would, you’ll only need to sit in the sauna for three to five minutes. Then, you’ll get out and slowly ease yourself into the ice bath. 

If you’re focusing on one particular joint, like your knee, for example, you can simply submerge your legs instead. After a minute, you can then switch back to the sauna. Repeat this process just two to three times to start out, checking in with your body to make sure you’re feeling well. 

If you have heart health issues, low or high blood pressure or are on any medication that can make you lightheaded in extreme temperatures, you may want to engage in contrast therapy differently. We recommend speaking to your general practitioner first to check if contrast therapy is right for you. If you’re all clear, we recommend spacing out the treatments, giving your body more time to adjust between the infrared sauna and ice bath rather than making a fast changeover. 

You should also start out with a milder temperature, around 30℃ for your sauna, with the water set at around 20℃. You can then wait one to two minutes before switching from one to the other. This allows your body to regulate itself more gradually while also enabling you to still get some of the benefits from contrast therapy

Personalising Your Recovery Routine: Finding the Right Balance

Each body is different and the way in which you engage with contrast therapy will be unique to you. Stick with the more moderate temperatures initially until you can do it more comfortably. After that, you can gradually increase the heat and lower the temperature in your ice bath the more resilient you become. 

The more contrast therapy sessions you do, the more you’ll be able to make the temperatures higher and lower respectively, along with repeating the hot-to-cold change more times. We recommend gradually working your way up to 70℃ in the infrared sauna and dropping as low as 0℃ in the ice bath. 

While the prospect of hot and cold therapy can be daunting, the physical and mental benefits can be remarkable. If you have any questions regarding the best ice bath or infrared sauna for you, please contact us anytime.