Infrared sauna blankets are fast becoming fitness lovers’ method for muscle recovery, but just how well do they actually work? Writer Miranda Larbi tests one to see what all the fuss is about and whether sweating at home is worth the faff.
I’m not a huge sauna fan. I’ve sweated it out in the sauna after a hard gym session and have visited the odd floating sauna (a traumatic experience, don’t ask!) but I prefer to get hot and sticky in a gym class rather than staying static. The idea of slowly frying in a sauna sack doesn’t appeal to me. Why would anyone want to lie, gathering sweat puddles, while in a roasting bag? Not me – until I gave this one a try.
It turns out that a sauna blanket was exactly the kind of recovery aid I was looking for. If you move a lot, you need to have a good repair and recovery plan; mine has always been to have a (very) hot bath with magnesium salts. But while I enjoy the initial shock of heat, I can never stay put for long enough to do my body much good. So having a blanket that forces you to relax for the best part of an hour – and can be used anywhere (I’ve even worked while being in the blanket) – is a better solution.
What is a sauna blanket?
The Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket is large and padded, and you’re supposed to plug it in before wrapping yourself up in it. It’s simple to use – just hop in, make sure that there are no gaps in the velcro that pins the blanket together, and lie back. My roommates and I call our sauna blanket “The Womb Bag,” because as my housemate correctly pointed out, it feels as relaxing as one might imagine a dark, warm and marginally damp space might.
Benefits of using a sauna blanket
Relaxation aside, these blankets claim to promote a temporary increase in blood flow so that you sweat as though you’re working out – but while lying still. Higher Dose also claims to soothe sore muscles and joints, produce a healthy “glow” and make you feel calmer.
The company also says that the infrared element of the blanker can assist with detoxification, increased metabolic rate, pain relief, anti-ageing, skin purification, cell health and improved circulation. In fact, it even goes so far on its blog to say that an infrared sauna session can burn as much energy as a light jog can.
It’s worth pointing out that it also does say that none of this has been verified by the US Food and Drug Administration and while studies may exist on the benefits of saunas in general, I’d argue that sauna bags are a slightly different beast.
My verdict of the sauna bag
At first, my housemates and I used the bag when the house was cold – putting it at level four (it goes up to a roasting level nine) – for a short snooze. But then I saw that you were actually supposed to whack the heat up and stay in the bag for close to an hour to reap the physical benefits. Plus, do so while dressed in a t-shirt and pants. I slipped in for a post-run sweat and by the end of the 45 minutes, I could hardly bear it any longer. I was dripping in sweat and breathing in my own condensation. My skin was sticky and slow-roasted. It’s not that it was unpleasant… just incredibly bloody hot.
The second time I gave the top temperatures a go – however, the experience was far less alarming and I put that down to wearing more clothes. The aim of the game is to sweat so in the interest of comfort and safety, it’s best to wear something that’s really going to cover every inch of your body in the bag (it gets really sticky when it’s just skin-to-mat). Think of yourself as one of those old-school boxers who goes running looking like the abominable snowman thanks to the many layers they’re wearing. More importantly, my muscles felt like I’d done an hour of foam rolling rather than an hour of watching The Office and I could have easily just gone straight to bed (post-shower, obviously).
It really is as relaxing as Higher Dose says, and I found that even after a long run, I wasn’t hobbling around with sore ankles as usual. It’s like the lazy person’s tool to muscle recovery – if you can’t be bothered to stretch, massage or roll, the blanket will do a lot of that work for you.
To be honest, I don’t think any of us relax enough and so I maintain that this blanket is ideal as a mid-afternoon warmer or a more comfortable means of slouching in front of the TV. When I’m not intent on working up a sweat, I simply lie the mat on a yoga mat, gather a load of soft pillows to go under my head and then kick back. Sometimes I even plug it in and lie on my bed and work in it. For those hot temperatures, it’s best to lie a towel both inside and around
Is a sauna bag worth the investment?
At £399, the sauna bag doesn’t come cheap and arguably, you could just get in a hot bath for a fraction of the price. But if you love saunas and do lots of intense exercise, this is a pretty good compromise. It’s definitely been great during winter months in lockdown when everyone in our flat was dying to turn up the central heating. This warms you up within 10 minutes and everyone in my house has been able to have an hour inside, after which, they claim to feel restored.
While I’d argue against some of the claims (are we really still talking about “detoxifying” as something we need to do?), I’d definitely say that the blanket helps to reduce DOMs and leaves you feeling blissed out. I have no doubt that saunas, in general, can help to improve skin health and circulation. If you can afford one, get one. If not… well, the real-life saunas will be back open soon.
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Miranda Larbi is a freelance fitness and wellness journalist, and qualified personal trainer. When she’s not finding new vegan places to eat, she can be found training for the next marathon or cycling across London on a Tokyo bike.