Can Contrast Therapy Really Help with Endurance & Strength Training?
Sauna and cold therapy can be used as a tool to enhance strength training and improve endurance. Here's why we love contrast therapy.
Common sense would suggest that those looking for different results would take different approaches to reach them, and the available data from sauna studies supports the success of individualized strategies of sauna use based on different types of workouts.
Let’s talk about building muscle.
If you work out with the goal of building muscle mass, you’re likely lifting weights. Crushing iron is intense exercise and results in muscle protein breakdown (MPB). A healthy body is always seeking equilibrium, so following MPB, your body recovers and rebuilds muscle fibers through muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Adding a sauna session after a heavy work out is a fantastic way to increase your body’s ability to build muscles faster and more efficiently. Two major factors are at play here - human growth hormone and heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins are created when your body is under stressful environmental conditions, such as extreme heat. These proteins bind to amino acids and serve as chaperones throughout protein synthesis, making sure the process is done efficiently and correctly. Human growth hormone is exactly what it sounds like. We all have it to help us grow and heal damaged tissues. Unfortunately, as you age your body generates less and less of this wonder drug. That's why babies heal so quickly, while older folks bruise like a peach. The more of this stuff that you can make, the easier it is to build muscle.
So yeah, saunas are great for muscle growth, but what about the cold plunge. We say DON'T DO IT. At least not right away! Cold water therapy is a great tool for recovery days but should not be used for at least 16 to 24 hours after a heavy lifting session. Think about what happens in the cold plunge. The cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, shunting fluid from your limbs to your core. Although this is great for inflammation, you're sending blood, which is carrying it's goodie bag of HGH, heat shock proteins, and amino acids away from their target sites! Sure this is great to flush out lactic acid and inflammation in the area, it doesn’t help you bulk up and in fact shuts down MPS.
If you’re trying to increase your endurance performance using sauna and cold water therapy here’s the deal. First let’s talk heat exposure.
Endurance is a collection or processes all working to become more efficient and elevate performance. The exchange of oxygen between the lungs and the blood can become more efficient, the transfer of oxygenated blood to the muscles can become more efficient, and even the way in which muscles use oxygen for the same workload can become more efficient.
Regular sauna use supports and improves these processes, and therefore improves endurance!
Sauna use increases red blood cell count. Red blood cells travel through the bloodstream, delivering oxygen throughout your body. Simply put, more red blood cells equals more available oxygen.
Sauna use increases mitochondrial activity! Mitochondria take oxygen and turn it into energy that your cells can use. The healthier the mitochondria, the more energy it puts out.
Sauna improves recovery time and muscle growth by releasing heat shock proteins and HGH. It also dilates blood vessels, increasing the amount of oxygen rich blood that flows into the muscles.
Does Cold Therapy Help Endurance?
During cold water exposure, your body removes lactic acid more efficiently. Lactic acid is cleared out of the bloodstream naturally, but the cold plunge does it faster! When lactic acid lingers it causes muscle fatigue, slows recovery, and damages tissues. Cold water therapy after endurance events puts you on the road to recovery so you can maintain and improve your performance levels.
The body responds to stress by building immunity and adapting to it. Endurance is increased in the body when the processes that already exist are able to occur at higher levels of efficiency. To do this you train, whether you’re training for strength or endurance, you’re putting the body under stress. The type of stress (endurance, strength training, or sauna & cold therapy) creates a reaction that tells the body to adapt. These cellular adaptations are exactly what increase performance. Using sauna and cold therapy stresses the cells inside the body in ways that endurance and strength training can not, these adaptations to hot and cold exposure are beneficial for both strength and endurance performance if used strategically with your current training plan.
Contrast Therapy to Get Strong.
Sauna after lifting every time. Make sure to keep super hydrated and add a pinch of celtic salt to your water or use electrolyte drinks
Cold plunge on off days 1 or 2 days a week
Contrast Therapy to Get Fast. Go Further.
Sauna & cold plunge together regularly during training 3 days a week (drink electrolytes and celtic salt)
Sauna directly after training for best results
Cold water therapy directly after any but especially long events 10 miles or more, skip sauna for one day to stay hydrated and then use sauna & cold plunge the following day. Shorter events we suggest sauna and cold therapy 10k or under. Athletes can feel this out to a degree heading the warning that hydration is very important for recovery so on hot days think less sauna.
We have a team of elite athletes doing various degrees of our training method and they are seeing results in competition while reporting less onset muscle soreness and fatigue.