Sauna vs. Hot Tub: Which is Better for Recovery?

This battle might be the most fun ever because either recovery method sounds glorious! We want to offer some guidelines for saunas and hot tubs and what they offer regarding recovery. We’ll review the benefits of heat therapy and have you rushing out to both in no time. Let’s begin!

Understanding Heat Therapy

Heat therapy is a muscle recovery tool that treats pain and helps in rehabilitation. A study published in 2017 demonstrated that post-exercise heat recovery showed better results for muscle recovery than cold therapy. Not only that, heat brings relaxation, which is imperative to overall well-being.

Both saunas and hot tubs are forms of heat therapy. The best part? You can have a hot tub or sauna at home to jump in whenever you need recovery time. Not too shabby.

Benefits of Heat Therapy

Vasodilation and Blood Flow

Vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, increases blood flow throughout the body. Heat therapy causes blood vessels to expand, leading to better blood flow. As this happens, more oxygen and nutrients flow to muscles to promote faster recovery. In addition to quicker recovery, increased blood flow allows the body to flush lactic acid from the muscles, decreasing muscle soreness.

Muscle Relaxation

Have you ever used a heating pad to treat muscle soreness? You’re not the only one. Heat induces muscle relaxation by extending collagen fibers within muscles. By doing so, muscles are more flexible and relaxed, alleviating muscle tension.

Pain Relief

Heat therapy helps to disrupt pain receptors in the brain. As you apply heat to your skin, it stimulates sensory receptors in the skin. This process disrupts the pain receptors going to the brain and brings pain relief.

Reduces Stress

Endorphins anyone? Heat therapy is an excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety. Many people use a sauna blanket at home to increase beta-endorphins, which block pain and improve moods. 

Saunas for Heat Therapy

Saunas originated in Finland over 2,000 years ago. The Finnish people initially used saunas for bathing, but the use of saunas for heat therapy quickly spread throughout Europe during World War II and eventually became famous worldwide.

Saunas range from steam to dry air to infrared light to heat the air. They are made from wood like cedar, hemlock, white aspen, or spruce. Saunas contain heat anywhere from 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celcius) to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celcius).

The dry heat in a sauna promotes muscle recovery and increases the human growth hormone by 150%. People use saunas often for a few minutes post-exercise to deliver quicker recovery and decrease anxiety. A sauna blanket has similar effects, as we noted in our article read here.

Pros

  • Increase detoxification
  • Promote better skin health
  • Less anxiety and stress relief

Cons

  • Some people with health conditions like heart disease and respiratory issues cannot handle the heat of a sauna
  • Extreme temperatures are uncomfortable for some people sensitive to heat

Hot Tubs for Heat Therapy

Hot tubs or some form of a pool of warm water have been around for centuries. In the mid-1900s, the conventional hot tub with jets was invented. Heated water, anywhere from 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celcius) to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celcius), along with powerful jets, stimulates heat therapy for muscle recovery. The jets pulse against muscles to massage certain areas of discomfort, leading to less tension.

Sitting in the buoyancy of water rather than in a sauna decreases muscle stress. Hydrotherapy, exercising in water, helps people with certain health conditions like arthritis and migraines. It’s no surprise heated water does the same for pain.

Pros

  • Easier to install at home
  • Proves to be more efficient for pain relief
  • Enhances sleep quality
  • Smaller than saunas
  • Excellent for enjoying with friends and family for more extended periods

Cons

  • Detoxification is better with a sauna
  • Hot tubs cost more to run
  • More maintenance is required with hot tubs than with saunas
  • Infections are likely if water is not treated properly

Heat Therapy And Your Recovery Routine

Since heat therapy is not the only form of recovery, there are ways to implement it into your current recovery routine. It’s best to time heat therapy at the end of the exercise when muscles are exhausted and already warm. Adding the heat will keep them warm while increasing blood flow for optimal nutrients and oxygen intake. It will also increase your relaxation after a challenging workout.

If you stretch for recovery, we recommend adding your heat therapy before you stretch. Heat therapy beforehand ensures muscles are warm and flexible. It will increase your stretching ability and help target specific muscles in your recovery. Some people like to get their massages after a heat therapy session as it reduces muscle spasms and tension.

Make sure you create the oasis you need during heat therapy. Whether that is relaxing music or aroma therapy, ensure you combine the heat with something else that brings you a sense of recovery and relaxation.

FAQs

How often should you use a sauna or hot tub for recovery?

A hot tub or sauna daily to meet your recovery needs is acceptable. It depends on you and your access to heat therapy. Using it every day is terrific.

Can I use the hot tub or sauna immediately after a workout?

You can use a hot tub or sauna immediately after a workout, but keep a few things in mind. It would be best if you cooled down before jumping into either a sauna or hot tub. Give yourself about 15-20 minutes so your heart rate returns to normal. Also, since both are heat therapy, ensure you are adequately hydrated before entering a sauna or hot tub.

Are there health risks associated with hot tubs or saunas?

Both cause dehydration if you are not careful, so ensure you drink enough water before, during, and after a heat therapy recovery. Also, pregnant women want to avoid either, as increasing your body’s temperature can cause issues.

How long should I spend in a hot tub or sauna for recovery?

15-20 minutes is enough for muscle recovery in a hot tub. A sauna may require more time, around 30 minutes.

Can I combine heat therapy with other recovery techniques?

Yes. You can combine heat therapy with stretching or massaging.

Sauna or Hot Tub?

When it comes down to it, it’s hard to pick a winner here, as both heat therapy treatments benefit muscle recovery. Some people may prefer a sauna since there are prevalent in gyms, or buying a sauna blanket for home is quick and easy. However, other people enjoy a hot tub for the buoyancy and massage they receive from the jets. Either way, you promote muscle relaxation and increase blood flow to ease tension and anxiety. We call that a win!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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