Benefits of Red-Light Therapy Workout Before and After

What is light therapy? You may be familiar with the term, but not know quite what it means. You’ll sometimes hear it used to refer to acne treatment- and while that is a function of certain types of light therapy, light therapy is in fact a fairly large umbrella that also includes treatment for lupus, rickets, sleep and mood disorders. In this blog, we’ll be primarily focused on light therapy for fitness. That’s right- light therapy can help improve your workouts!

While various forms of light therapy have been used throughout history- ancient Egyptians believed in sunbathing to restore their health- modern application really only began in the early 1900s, when a Danish-Icelandic physician first pioneered work into artificial light therapy for skin and other conditions. With time, light therapy’s effect on mood disorders became known, and it’s been employed by individuals- and even governments! – to improve both mental and physical health.

It has only been within the last 15 years or so that clinical research has supported the positive effects of light therapy for athletes, and in particular, the use of red-light therapy to help boost performance and promote workout recovery.

Let’s take a look into how red-light therapy for workouts functions.


Red Light Therapy: What it Looks Like and How it Works

Red light therapy use by athletes- also known as low-level light therapy or, if you are using near infrared light (wavelengths of  810-850 nm, compared to red light’s 620-750 nm), infrared training- is lesser known than its blue light cousin, but it functions similarly.

First, you’ll choose your light source. Some fitness centers offer full body red-light therapy, but you can also use red light masks, lamps, lightboxes and even lamps. Red wavelength light stimulates our mitochondria- ‘the powerhouse of the cell’, as you may remember from 8th grade biology- to produce more ATP, the molecule that drives most of our metabolic processes.

More energy sounds great, but it’s really the knockdown effects of this burst of energy that benefit athletes. Chief among them, improved blood flow to and from our muscles, which helps us dispose of waste like lactic acid more quickly, reducing inflammation. This is sometimes called oxidative stress reduction- it’s helping your body purge itself of free radicals.

That may make the post-workout benefits of red-light therapy somewhat obvious, but let’s walk through the benefits of using red light therapy at each stage of your workout- pre, post, and during- and how it affects your recovery!


Red Light Therapy Pre-Workout


woman stretching on yoga mat


Red light therapy just five minutes before a workout can have substantial positive effects on your workout, including improved performance, decreased oxidative stress, reduced fatigue, shortened post-workout recovery time, and less muscle damage. It can even help you lose weight… and improve grip strength!

What about long-term use? A 2018 study from Brazil tested 48 male athletes over 12 weeks- the group that received pre-workout red light therapy saw substantial improvement in strength and muscle growth compared to the other groups in the trial.

One of the amazing effects of red-light therapy is increased circulation- which substantially impacts fatigue, performance, and oxidative stress. Red-light therapy before a workout kicks your mitochondria into high gear, improves your circulation, and improves the effectiveness of your workout- all while contributing to less injury chance, and an easier recovery post-workout.


Red Light Therapy During Workout

There is less research on the effect of red-light therapy during workouts, for a simple reason- it’s a bit harder to expose yourself to red light during a workout (though a light of substantial size might do the trick). However, the above-mentioned positive effects are recorded in the few studies on these instances, as well- studies in both 2018 and 2014, focused on male runners and post-menopausal women specifically, found increased performance and decreased fatigue in both groups. Red light’s positive effects on our body processes continues throughout- and after- our workouts.


Red Light Therapy Post-Workout

Unsurprisingly, red-light therapy’s effects have a big impact on post-workout recovery. Researchers have found that red-light therapy applied post workout helps to reduce inflammation and muscle damage from workouts, speeds up muscle recovery via cellular respiration, and even reduces healing time for injuries. Another bonus of red-light therapy is that it stimulates collagen production- something aestheticians have known about for some time, but that also affects the healing of injuries- more collagen means a quicker recovery in many cases. It’s no accident that the athletes who use red light therapy post-workout also tend to report increased endurance, quicker recovery time, and better results!

Other Positive Effects of Red Light Therapy

We’ve already covered that red-light therapy improves circulation, energy, and collagen production (and the effects those have on our workouts and recovery), but red-light therapy reduces the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that in excessive amounts can contribute to mood dysregulation.

Negative Effects of Red Light Therapy

Too much red light therapy is a bad thing, though. Negative effects can include excessive sleepiness, depression, and circadian rhythm dysregulation. Balance is key!


Using Red Light Therapy in Your Workouts

While all therapies should be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare professional like a doctor, you can reap some athletic benefits from ad-hoc red-light exposure in your home gym. Consider using high-energy LED products that deliver a combination of red and near-infrared light for sub-skin penetration; panels are commonly suggested. Expose your skin (ideally your whole body) to this light for 5-20 minutes pre, during, and post workout. Some athletes report immediate results, but long-term gains are typically realized over a period of weeks.


Red Light Therapy Workout FAQ:

What is red-light therapy?

Red light therapy is the use of red-light wavelength lights or bulbs. It has commonly been used for insomnia, depression, anxiety, and SAD, but it also has substantial positive effects on workout performance and recovery.

What is the difference between near infrared light vs. regular red light?

Near infrared light has wavelengths of 810-850 nm and penetrates below the top layers of our skin. Red light has wavelengths of 620-750 nm, and tends to only penetrates the top layers of our skin.

How does red-light therapy improve your workouts?

Red-light therapy has been proven in numerous studies to increase performance- from endurance to gains- and reduce recovery time.

What effect does red-light exposure have on your body?

Red-light therapy has been found to reduce injury, oxidative stress, and recovery times, all while boosting performance, circulation, collagen production and cellular energy.