Red light therapy is widely used in the professional sports training, and fitness industries, because of its ability to improve endurance, build muscle, and speed up recovery time, among other benefits.
This has been scientifically proven across hundreds of peer-reviewed clinical studies, as well as in the fields and gyms, where teams, pro athletes, fitness experts, and trainers use red light therapy every day for peak performance.
In fact, red light therapy has several benefits for athletes, including improved performance, boost in endurance, reduction in inflammation, faster recovery time, enhanced muscle growth and strength, lower lactic acid levels which minimize muscle damage, increased cellular metabolic function, increase in fat loss, increase in collagen and elastin production, and increase in blood flow and circulation.
In this article, we discuss how muscle recovery works, how red light therapy can speed up muscle recovery, and how to use red light therapy in your fitness routine to help you perform your best.
If you want to know more about how red light therapy helps you achieve peak performance, check out our article.
Why is Muscle Recovery Important?
An intense workout can often cause muscle soreness and inflammation, which can keep you from working out for several days and even cause injury if you attempt to push through it.
Muscle recovery refers to any period of rest following a workout, during which muscles repair, grow, and regain strength. Getting proper rest and sleep between workouts gives your body time to restore energy and heal muscle and tissue damage. Quality recovery helps you perform better in the long run and helps prevent fatigue and injuries.
If you skip the recovery period, it will be impossible for you to maintain peak performance. You’ll also risk overtraining, which will reduce the effects of your workout. Worse, you’re more likely to suffer injuries and you can negatively impact your hormone levels and immune system.
Because professional athletes don’t always have the time to recover, their coaches and medical staff have developed some effective methods to speed up and improve muscle recovery.
That said, recovery is important for everyone, not only athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Even if you don’t train or do sports, most people exert large amounts of effort each day and need to take time to rest in order to keep performing well.
What Helps Muscles Recover Faster?
During a workout, two things happen that make your muscles tired: the development of tiny tears in muscular tissue and the elevation of the serum lactate in your blood.
The development of tiny tears in the muscle tissue is a natural occurrence because that is how your muscles grow — by tearing a little up and combining muscle fibers with the help of satellite cells. To avoid muscle injury, those tears must heal before your next session.
The rise of serum lactate in your blood is another component that contributes to muscle fatigue. Serum lactate is a result of metabolic activities in your muscles that occur in your muscles during exercise. When lactate levels rise, it causes muscle fatigue. However, there’s no problem, as long as your muscles can flush it out at the same rate as it’s produced.
The solution to muscle fatigue is anything that helps your muscle tears mend quickly and eliminate lactate from your body. Some of the methods that the National Academy of Sports Medicine are:
Additionally, a treatment worth noting for muscle recovery is red light therapy. Not only does it help muscles recover faster, but it also boosts the effectiveness of the other recovery methods mentioned.
Other benefits it provides are pain relief, bone healing, and tissue healing following sports injuries.
How Red Light Therapy Works
The human body is very responsive to light. All light is beneficial to some degree, but too much can be harmful. Red light and near-infrared (NIR) light are exceptions, as confirmed by thousands of independent studies.
Red light therapy involves shining red and/or NIR light onto the body to stimulate biological processes. When the body is exposed to red light, the light wavelengths stimulate the mitochondria to produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a molecule that produces the energy our body needs to function so that it can heal tissue, cells, and systems.
Therefore, red light works as a stimulant for cells, similar to recharging a battery. In fact, the body works similarly to a battery, and our body’s ability to receive and maintain a charge determines our overall health.
More than 4000 studies and scientific reviews have been conducted to investigate the physiological effects of red light therapy. The main areas of therapeutic benefit include:
- collagen production
- repair and recovery of muscles, and
- relief from symptoms of illnesses that stem from some type of inflammatory response.
How Red Light Therapy Helps Optimize Muscle Recovery
Red light therapy speeds up the response time of the satellite muscle stem cells to heal the muscle tears due to an intense workout. Thus, they are able to arrive at their destination faster and can mend the muscle fibers more quickly.
As for the lactate levels in your body, red light helps to metabolize it, which eliminates muscle fatigue. Because red and near-infrared light boost both blood flow and the lymphatic system, your body is able to reduce toxins more efficiently.
Furthermore, red light therapy stimulates the mitochondria in muscle cells to complete their respiration cycle more efficiently, which helps the muscles incur less fatigue.
By improving the mitochondrial respiration cycle, the muscle stem cells that eventually develop into healthy muscle tissue get the benefit of better activation and formation. This means that those who use red light therapy on their muscles can form long-lasting healthy muscle tissue.
Another benefit of red light therapy is a decrease in inflammation which damages cells and makes muscles sore. Red light therapy has been even shown to help muscle growth, strength, and endurance.
Lastly, red light therapy can have a positive effect on sleep. Unlike blue light, red light does not act as a stimulant, and instead, helps you relax. Its low color temperature has a calming effect on the body, and it’s the best wavelength of light for getting a good night’s sleep. By increasing your body’s melatonin levels, red light at night can help your body naturally transition into its sleep cycle.
Studies on Red Light Therapy for Muscle Recovery
Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on red light therapy’s effects on exercise, training, and specific areas of physical performance like strength, speed, and endurance. Here are a few that show how red light therapy boosts muscle recovery:
A 2014 study revealed that red light treatments produced a positive effect on muscle recovery after “damaging eccentric exercise” (bicep curls using the non-dominant arm). Muscle soreness, muscle weakness, and range of motion impairment were significantly improved up to 96 hours after exercise.
In a 2016 clinical trial, high-level rugby players were observed during an anaerobic fitness test. The athletes treated with red light showed significant improvements in sprint times and delayed the onset of actual and perceived muscle fatigue.
According to research, RLT can have a positive impact on the biochemical markers used to assess muscle damage and recovery. RLT has been shown to significantly reduce blood lactate, creatine kinase, and C-reactive protein levels, in numerous studies. However, there are some contradictions on whether RLT was more effective if applied before or after exercise. 
Participants who were subjected to RLT observed less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Red light therapy has also been proven to prevent exercise-related muscle damage and to lower oxidative stress, which arises when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, limiting its ability to detoxify.
Some studies even show that RLT is more effective for muscle recovery than cryotherapy (both alone and in combination with RLT) and cold water immersion therapy for post-exercise muscle recovery. These findings can have important implications for high-level athletes. 
How To Use Red Light Therapy To Improve Athletic Performance:
When used before a workout, red light therapy can help with preconditioning your muscles to give them more strength. RLT also helps minimize muscle strain and damage during exercise. By using RLT before a workout, you will experience less soreness, inflammation, and faster healing times.
On the other hand, when used after an intense workout, RLT can help with muscle recovery, and injuries and help reduce inflammation.
Our recommendation is:
- Before Workout: 8 to 10 minutes (aimed at desired muscles)
- After Workout: 10 to 12 minutes (aimed at desired muscles)
- 2 Hours Before Bed: 5 minutes per area (chest, back, or legs)
This is aimed to feed your muscles before you train, which will increase your endurance, and optimize your recovery and muscle growth after training. The last session before bed is meant to help increase melatonin levels in your body, and to help you get better quality sleep.
How to Use RLT to Speed Up Muscle Recovery
Device: Model1+2 Pro
Duration: 15 minutes is optimal
Distance: We recommend positioning the device 8 inches away from the targeted muscle
Wavelength: We recommend 660nm (red light)
Red light therapy provides various benefits for athletes, whether used before or after exercise. It is widely used in the sports and fitness world, because of its potential to improve performance and speed up recovery, as confirmed in many studies.
If you want to improve your performance, you should definitely have a high-quality red light therapy device in your arsenal.