Passive recovery tactics like infrared saunas and cryotherapy have generated buzz among celebrities and athletes alike in recent years—Jennifer Aniston has an infrared sauna installed in her home, and Golden State Warriors MVP Stephen Curry regularly books cryotherapy sessions.
And these recovery tactics are backed up by physical therapists and doctors: Whether you're working to improve your athletic performance or you have an injury that needs healing, the consensus is that practicing some form of passive recovery two or three times per week is important. "Passive recovery allows healing to occur without stressing traumatized tissues in the body," explains Alexander Lucci, a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy.
Want to hop on the passive recovery bandwagon? Here's what you should know.
How cryotherapy and infrared saunas help with healing.
Both cryotherapy and infrared saunas utilize ancient healing methods: ice and heat. While one isn't necessarily better than the other, they do serve different purposes. "Cryotherapy is any form of cold therapy, including ice compression, cold baths or cold chambers that are ideally used in the acute phase of healing," explains Alexander. "It's ideal to use cryotherapy when your muscles are particularly inflamed, as cryotherapy decreases inflammation and swelling, which can have a negative effect on muscles and joints. If you want to take the effects up a notch, couple this form of therapy with massage or some type of pneumatic pumping of the area. This will help improve circulation from the areas of excessive swelling."
As for infrared saunas, these are best used during the subacute or remodeling phases of healing. Unlike cryotherapy, which can be extreme for the body unless you're really inflamed, infrared saunas can be used on a more regular basis. "The heating can induce endocrinological and hemodynamic (blood flow) changes, similar to those aroused by exercise," says Alexander. "Therefore, you can get somewhat of an active recovery while being passive. Still, nothing benefits the joints and tissues more than movement, which will pump out the ‘bad’ fluids, and help replace the body with fresh blood and nutrients—so don't forget to keep up with regular walks and yoga sessions on rest days as well."
Other forms of passive recovery you should know about.
As helpful as infrared saunas and cryotherapy chambers are, we don't all have the financial means to install them in our homes or book regular sessions. If you're looking for a more affordable form of passive recovery, naturopathic doctor Tiffany Jackson suggests booking a 30-minute Migun massage session. And if you're just burned out on cryo and infrared, consider a float tank session, otherwise known as a sensory deprivation chamber.
And if you're looking for a ridiculously easy, completely free way to recovery passively, just get more sleep. While you sleep, your body is in constant repair mode, regenerating those cells that are so crucial to strong workouts. Plus, sleep improves your reaction times, so the more of it you can get, the better. Yes, even if that means sacrificing your 6 a.m. workout. "Without a doubt, getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night is the new status symbol," says Dr. Joel Kahn. "Trying to reach your fitness goals by skipping a few hours of sleep to race to the gym is chasing your tail. Structure your life to permit the restorative and rejuvenating magic of restful sleep."
Loving this trend? Check out our full list of summer fitness trends here.