Beat Post-Workout Soreness with Heat Therapy

by Deion Clifton

Welcome to your complete guide to recovery, a series where we teach you all about the different recovery methods and the related recovery items offered here at HAC. Our goal is to assist you in finding which method works best for YOU. Our mission is to provide you with all the necessary materials to help build the best possible version of yourself.

Did you know you’re practicing heat therapy when you do things as simple as applying a warm compress or taking a nice, warm bubble bath? Many people use heat therapy recreationally without even knowing all the benefits of heat exposure. Gymgoers everywhere have made heat exposure a part of their post-workout recovery methods because of its proven benefits.

Heat therapy is the process of exposing the body to heat with the goal of soothing discomfort and healing damaged tissue. While cold therapy is often used to alleviate acute injuries, pain, inflammation, or swelling, heat therapy relieves pain and stiffness.


Heat therapy boasts numerous benefits for psychological, emotional, and physical health. Research has found that it stimulates the immune system, eliminates toxins from the body, improves blood circulation, promotes mental health, soothes muscle aches and pains, and improves breathing.[4] It’s known to help speed up the healing and recovery process.

Heat is known to help loosen stiff joints and soothe sore muscles. That’s why after icing a sprain, it’s recommended that you add heat. The ice will reduce swelling or inflammation, while the heat will help reduce stiffness.

When immersed in heat, whether dry or moist, the increase in temperatures on the skin will cause a reflexive increase in sympathetic active vasodilator nerve activity.[1] Vasodilation allows excess lactic acid and other toxins to be transported away from tired muscles. During high-intensity workouts, our bodies pull from the supply of carbohydrates held in our muscles and liver as glycogen and in our bloodstream as glucose. Lactic acid attaches itself to tired muscles, causing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). When blood vessels close to the skin’s surface widen (vasodilation), blood flow increases. This increased blood flow washes away toxins from our tired muscles, allowing easier recovery.

The heat also causes muscles to relax, which, in turn, increases elasticity. When we stretch, gamma motor neurons send signals from the muscles up the spine to the central nervous system (CNS), which then causes the muscle spindles to contract so that we do not over-extend our muscles. Sensory receptor signals from gamma motor neurons decrease, causing the contraction of the muscle spindles to slow.[1][10]

Remember to drink plenty of water when participating in a Hot Yoga class, sitting in a steam room or sauna, and especially when using our hot tub. Drinking water helps to regulate your body temperature, allowing the body to effectively send signals to the CNS without slowing down.

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga is one of HAC’s best active recovery methods. It boasts many mental and physical benefits. Hot Yoga Director Maria DiCamillo focuses her classes on introducing people to a balanced lifestyle. She focuses on the totality of a person, introducing a holistic teaching style and evoking a mind-body spiritual connection. The hot yoga rooms are kept at 95 degrees and 46 percent humidity. By getting involved in Hot Yoga, you could learn to effectively deal with stress and anxiety, improve your focus, and improve your lung capacity by training your lungs to retain more air in hot/humid environments.

Steam Room

Steam rooms are small rooms that produce heat from a generator filled with boiling water. They’re generally heated around 110°F and maintain humidity between 95-100%. [11] Besides clearing congestion, steam rooms improve blood circulation, relieve DOMS, loosen stiff joints, and promote cardiovascular and skin health. The steam room acts as a convenient passive recovery tool.


Like the steam room, the sauna is a passive recovery method. Saunas produce dry heat and help to improve blood flow, decrease inflammation, and decrease chronic muscle and joint pain. These rooms are heated by hot rocks or a closed stove, usually up to temperatures between 150°F and 190°F. [12]

CryoLounge Chairs

You probably had the opportunity to learn about the CryoLounge chairs in the first part of this series that focused on cold therapy. Our CryoLounge chairs, available to Black Card members, deliver targeted cold, heat, and pressure therapy. These chairs are a powerful post-workout recovery tool that will maximize your ability to relax and recover from soreness. Unlike traditional cryotherapy and ice baths, they allow us to offer temperature therapy while staying clothed.

Hot Tubs

HAC’s Whirlpool is an excellent tool to use before and after exercise. Some people use hot tubs for fun, therapeutic purposes without knowing the benefits they may be getting from submerging themselves in up to 105-degree water. Some health benefits of using a hot tub are muscle relaxation, sleep improvement, pain relief, increased cardiovascular health, and calorie burn.

Heat has many benefits for the body but can also be dangerous in large quantities. Heat is a hormetic stressor, meaning it is beneficial in small amounts, but it can hurt us if we are not intentional about practicing this recovery method.
Some potential risks of heat exposure are dehydration, skin rash or burn, and increased swelling and inflammation.
Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you consume. Fluids are flushed from the body when working out or immersing yourself in heat. That’s why it’s essential to hydrate before, during, and after a workout and recovery, especially when practicing heat therapy.
A skin rash or burn can occur from the prolonged use of heating pads or hot packs. [13] Applying a heat source to an area for too long can cause the skin to burn or can cause irritation. When practicing heat therapy, a barrier is recommended to block direct contact with the skin.
Heat therapy is not recommended to be used on swelling or inflammation. The application of heat to injury could increase swelling and inflammation and cause pain to worsen. It could also prolong the healing process if used when tissues are damaged. Cold therapy is the recommended recovery method when dealing with injuries involving inflammation and swelling.
When using heat therapy, you want to be wary of the time you spend applying heat. Everyone has a different heat tolerance. Remember, heat can produce just as much stress as it can relieve. Just as you would with cold therapy, practicing heat therapy with intention and attentiveness is essential.

Heat therapy is not recommended if you have been diagnosed with or are experiencing any of the following:

  • Dermatitis
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Severe cognitive impairment
  • Open wound

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