Recovery options for the runner are continually growing. The ever-expanding body of research on recovery needs as well as the rapid advancement in recovery technology can be overwhelming. We dug into the details to give you the need to know on three options in this new age in recovery.
Rather than heating by steam as in traditional saunas, infrared saunas use lamps that release electromagnetic radiation into the air. This radiation is absorbed by the skin and the heating occurs from the inside: the radiation increases the vibration of the water molecules under your skin, raising their temperature due to the increased energy present, and heating you up.
• Relaxation and rest, as heat promotes muscle tension release
• Improved circulation and blood flow
• Cleansing of the pores and skin purification
• Detoxification by release of small amounts of toxins through sweat
The act of sweating is a calorically driven process that is part of the body’s complex thermoregulatory measures. When the body sweats, it requires an increase in circulation and blood flow. This increased blood flow is key in getting muscles the oxygen and nutrients they need to facilitate recovery, as well as to flush out lactate. This combination of circulatory related benefits, as well as toxin release and helping calm the mind, all come together to make infrared saunas a valuable recovery tool for athletes.
The next level of ice baths, Cryotherapy involves standing in a room for four to five minutes that is set at a temperature between -100 and -140 degrees Celsius. The idea is that if applying ice to areas of inflammation or jumping in an ice bath after a hard work out is helpful, immersing the whole body in extreme icy conditions will work better and quicker. High-level athletes like Dathan Ritzenhein, Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay have been reported using the method.
Websites and individuals who promote or offer cryotherapy recommend it for anybody who is seeking to improve their overall health and recovery. They claim it is particular useful to:
• Speed recovery from athletic activities, such as running or cycling
• Reduce in overall body inflammation
• Reduce or eliminate muscle discomfort and fatigue
• Improve immunity to help eliminate illness, such as a cold
• Reduce the effects of chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
• Improve physical and mental performance
The FDA has not cleared or approved Whole Body Cryotherapy devices for treatment of any medical condition and warns individuals of this. Due to their relatively new presence on the market, the research is not yet available to indicate conclusively that they are or are not beneficial. One study concluded they could be assistive in rehabilitating adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder, but until additional research is available, researchers and sports professionals indicate other, more accessible methods of cold therapy —such as ice packs and ice baths—are also effective in reducing inflammation and pain.
If you’ve taken Epsom salt baths in your tub, you can think of floatation therapy as the business class version of your economy class DIY bath-time. Flotation therapy involves lying in a “pod” of warm water in a pitch-black room. The tub is filled with over 1000 pounds of Epsom salts, creating a water and salt balance that lets you float. Your body lies there feeling suspended and weightless, allowing you to fully relax into the water, take all the strain off of your muscles and be completely at rest.
• Encourages a meditative state for your body, helping with mental relaxation and mindset
• Allows your muscles to rest and relax
• Reduced sensory input, further encouraging relaxation
Right now most of the science supports that the unique combination of environmental factors in a flotation tank allow the body and mind to actually rest and relax. The salt makes the water feel warmer and smoother; the darkness and quiet reduces stimulation; the ability for weightlessness allows the muscles to relax. This functional REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) has a significant impact on blood lactate and perceived pain compared with passive recovery, and in its efforts to facilitate rest and relaxation may indeed be a valuable method of recovery.
Recovery is different for everyone, and there may never be the science behind every method of recovery to know whether it is the right one for you. What experts do say, however, is that the point of recovery is to relax, rest and let your body rebuild. Whatever works for you to help you do that, that is the answer—new age or back to basics.