Can Red Light Therapy Improve Your Workouts?

Young couple running on treadmills in a gym.

Whether you tear up the ballroom dance floor, dominate the racquetball court, or pump iron in the gym, you know physical activities can lead to sore muscles. Home LED light therapy devices have numerous applications for health and healing after workouts. For those who exercise regularly or participate in sports, convenient, low-cost wellness products to complement a fitness regimen are always welcome. Therapies using red or infrared LED lights, in particular, have been proven effective for pain relief with few if any side effects. Read on to learn how light therapy can enhance your workout regimen.

What Does Red or Infrared Light Do for Muscles?

Light toward the red and infrared end of the spectrum is able to safely penetrate the skin and body tissues. There, it stimulates the metabolism of cells. The light helps the mitochondria in the cells complete their respiration cycle more efficiently so the cells then regenerate faster

Infrared light, with a wavelength of 880 nanometers (nm), has demonstrated the highest level of natural healing effects. Combined with 660nm red light it reaches deep into joints and tissues, increasing circulation, oxygenation, cellular repair, and reproduction. As a result, users report a noticeable reduction in muscle soreness, spasms, fatigue, and stiffness. Increased cell regeneration also speeds injury recovery and wound healing.

You may see these therapies referred to as photobiomodulation, near-infrared (NIR) light therapy, or low level laser therapy (LLT), among other names.

Using LEDs Before Your Workout

Light therapy’s regenerative effects may help prepare the muscles to perform to their potential. Just as you stretch before exercise, you can incorporate the use of an LED light device to get ready for your workout.

A study published in the journal Biophotonics concluded that red and near-infrared light—which the researchers refer to collectively as photobiomodulation—confers benefits before a workout as well as after. The study compiled the results on a number of clinical trials, using a range of athletes from untrained to elite. The trials measured metrics like fatigue, the number of repetitions, torque, hypertrophy, and delayed onset muscle soreness. To mention just one example, there was a study where infrared light was applied to the biceps prior to lifting weights. The number of repetitions the volunteers were able to accomplish increased “significantly.”

Using Light Therapy After Your Workout

LED light therapy can not only help the body prepare for exercise but also recover after a workout. Experienced athletes know that during recovery is when the body reaps the full benefits of training. Recovery time is crucial to building muscle and endurance, allowing the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. The body actually gets stronger between workouts.

Knowing the importance of recovery, you can make the most of this opportunity to maximize results. Work LED therapy into your post-workout routine along with stretching, hydration, and ample nutrition. The light will enhance cell regeneration, increase blood flow and enhance tissue recovery. Not only that, but you will also thank yourself the next day when you’re not too sore to get out of bed!

Use different LED light therapy devices to target different areas of the body. Treat your arms, legs, neck, back … anywhere that needs some attention. Follow the directions for your particular device, but typically you will apply the light to a given area for 14 to 25 minutes.

What do Trainers and Doctors Think about Light Therapy for Workout Recovery?

Research is underway to further understand the potential for red and infrared light treatments on various different types of pain and inflammation. These are just two examples:

  • A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training concluded, near-infrared (NIR) light therapy may have benefits as a “noninvasive modality for improving muscle function during rehabilitation after musculoskeletal injury.”
  • A study in Lasers in Medical Science attempted to fine-tune which wavelength confers the greater benefit—red or infrared—but a combination seems to work best. The researchers wrote, “both red and infrared LLT are effective in delaying the development of skeletal muscle fatigue and in enhancement of skeletal muscle performance.”

Professionals are convinced. In fact, NFL teams and Olympic athletes have been using beds or “pods” filled with red or infrared lights to enhance their performance. A light bed might not be practical or affordable for home use, which is why home pain relief light therapy devices are such a welcome addition to the fitness market.

Can Using Red or Infrared Light Therapy Harm Your Body?

LED light therapy has no major side effects as a pain relief treatment. That said, it’s always recommended to talk to a doctor before starting a new personal care regimen. When buying a new light therapy device, it’s also a good idea to spot-test it on a small area of the body and monitor for any unexpected reaction. Choose an FDA-cleared device and follow all directions from the manufacturer, and you should experience the best odds for benefits.

Red and infrared light therapy offer something for every fitness enthusiast from casual exercisers to professional athletes. If you’re looking for non-addictive pain relief and a boost to your workout preparation and recovery, consider at-home light therapy.

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