Your body’s burning and aching after an intense workout, and the thought of relaxing in a sauna sounds like heaven.
But did you know it can also improve your health and enhance your fitness?
Here’s everything you need to know before you step into the sauna at the gym.
Sauna after workout?
It might scream “relaxation,” but you’ll be working up a sweat while reaping various benefits!
Your pulse will rise to approximately 120 beats per minute, which boosts circulation and reduces muscle soreness, according to Medical News Daily.
It’s also good for your heart.
A study published in Complementary Therapies In Medicine found that 25 minutes in the sauna had the same heart benefits as an exercise session that was moderate in intensity.
One of the major benefits was found in how blood pressure rose during the time people spent in the sauna and then slowly fell afterwards, which had the effect of “toning” the cardiovascular system and making it healthier by making it work harder for a shorter amount of time, Runner’s World reports.
Sauna After Workout: Can It Improve Your Training?
You gain health benefits from spending time in the sauna, but if you’re training regularly, can you use the sauna to improve your fitness?
Yes, and it all comes down to how long you spend in there (but it’s probably less than you’d think).
All You Need Is Half An Hour!
If you already exercise regularly, you just need to spend 30 minutes in the sauna after training to reap its benefits, from stress relief to cardiovascular health.
That’s what a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine found.
In the study, distance runners who committed to a 30-minute sauna session after training for four times a week boosted their performance and decreased their running times after just a few weeks.
Why Sweating In The Sauna Works
You might think sweating up a storm in the sauna before exercise will work for you, mainly because it warms up your muscles and prepares them for the intense workout that lies ahead.
That might be true, but stepping into the sauna after your gym session is really hitting the sweet spot. The reason for this is because you’re a bit dehydrated after working out.
You might be thinking, “What? How can a bit of dehydration ever be a good thing?”
Well, the Adams Centre for High Performance at New Zealand’s University of Waikato explains to Bicycling that you have lower blood volume when you’re a bit dehydrated.
So, when you step into the sauna, your body sends more blood to your skin to deal with the heat in the room, meaning that you can sweat without overheating.
You also have less blood available to go to your organs, which makes your kidneys boost their production of EPO (Erythropoietin).
That’s where the fitness benefit comes in. The EPO hormone is important for fitness because it promotes red blood cell production by the blood marrow, which boosts your blood’s ability to circulate more oxygen in your body, thus improving your next workout’s success.
That said, we’re talking a little bit of dehydration here. You should never skip drinking water after your sauna session as you don’t want to become ill from dehydration.
However, avoid guzzling down water as soon as you exit the sauna as this will cancel out the heat-stress response to the kidneys that occurred while you were in the intense heat.
Moderation is key: you want to slowly rehydrate over the next few hours.
Sauna After Workout: Why You Should Avoid Going Before Exercise
Besides for how dehydration makes your time in the sauna better, there are other reasons why you should hit the sauna after, instead of before, your gym session.
While your buddy from work might vouch for hitting the sauna before a workout session, it can be counterproductive to do this.
Here’s why you should rather use the sauna after exercise.
You’ll Feel Too Relaxed
Spending some time in the sauna is a relaxing, even pampering, experience. It clears your mind and helps you forget about your stress.
This might not make it suitable before a workout. You wouldn’t go to the gym after a rejuvenating spa massage, would you?
Probably not, and for the same reasons.
If you’re feeling too mellow, your energy levels can be zapped, which means you might find you don’t have the stamina that’s required to reach your fitness potential.
You Risk Injury
It’s not just your mind that will feel calm – your muscles will relax in the sauna, which can cause them to be more prone to injury during your upcoming workout.
This is even more of a risk if your mental state is too relaxed, instead of being aware and sharp, such as when using gym equipment.
Substituting pre-workout stretches and warmup exercises for a stint in the sauna can also make your muscles less prepared for the workout you want to do.
You Sweat Too Much
You’ll sweat a lot in the sauna, which is counterproductive to your exercise routine.
Just think: you’ve sweated loads and now you have to sweat all over again in your workout.
This can easily lead to dehydration if you’re not religious about consuming water before and during exercise, which can make you feel ill, dizzy, and tired during your workout.
Sauna Or Steam Room?
You might be wondering about the differences between a sauna and steam room, as well as which one is better for you.
Here’s a quick crash course.
Saunas make use of dry heat, and have temperatures of between 180 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit, with low levels of humidity.
Steam rooms, on the other hand, are more humid and tend to be heated to temperatures between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Their humidity is what makes them feel hotter, though.
They Have The Same Health Benefits
Saunas and steam rooms have the same health benefits, so it’s really up to you to choose which one you’d like to try.
There is one health-related issue to bear in mind, though.
If you have respiratory issues, you’d be wise to choose steam rooms because their humidity will maintain the hydration of your respiratory tract.
Traditional VS. Infrared Saunas
Your gym has a traditional sauna, but maybe it’s just installed a fancy new infrared one too.
Which type is best, and does it matter that much?
Let’s take a look at their main differences and benefits when it comes to three crucial categories: heat, heart rate, and how long you should stay in them.
Traditional dry saunas have temperatures that can go as high as 185 to 195 degrees F. This might feel too hot to handle for some people, especially if you’re not used to spending time in saunas.
These saunas make use of much milder temperatures of between 120 to 150 degrees F. However, heat in infrared saunas penetrate the body, meaning that they can cause you to sweat more without using as much heat as traditional saunas.
Your pulse rate in a traditional sauna increases by up to 30 percent. In this way, the high temperature can produce beneficial effects that are similar to exercise.
The lower temperature results in a lower heart rate than in a traditional sauna, which does feel more comfortable for people who can’t handle the sudden spike in heart rate, while still making them work up a sweat.
It takes up to 30 minutes for a traditional sauna room to reach the right temperature. As long as you take breaks to cool down, you can accumulate 45 minutes in these saunas.
The heat is more immediate – just step in and you’re ready to go. And, since the air temperature is lower in an infrared sauna, you can spend up to 30 minutes in it at a time.
Boost Your Workout Recovery
Whether you use a traditional steam sauna or infrared sauna, they both decrease Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMs) and improve your recovery after exercise, according to research published in Springerplus.
When it comes to infrared saunas specifically, however, they might be a bit more beneficial.
The same study found their heat penetrates into the neuromuscular system of the body to promote recovery.
Whichever type you choose, making saunas your post-workout buddy might also benefit you when it comes to pain and stiffness.
Sauna usage has been linked to a reduction in chronic pain.
A study published in Clinical Rheumatology found that people with health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis experienced an improvement in stiffness, fatigue, and pain when using the sauna over the course of a month.
Sauna After Workout For Greater Muscle Mass
Spending some time in the sauna at the gym can help to increase your body’s ability to produce muscle.
It’s thanks to the boost in circulation we were talking about earlier.
When your body’s circulation is improved, this boosts the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle cells. But the heat can also do much more than that.
Heat Encourages Production Of The Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Interestingly, the heat in a sauna is also linked to levels of HGH in the body, a hormone which is crucial for breaking down fats and building muscle.
Research into the topic goes back to the 70s. In Finland in 1976, HGH levels in 55 healthy people were monitored by researchers before and after they spent time in the sauna.
The research, published in the Annals of Clinical Research found that the people’s HGH levels were 140 percent higher after they spent time in the sauna, and then returned to normal about an hour later.
Other studies over the years have also found that a sauna’s high temperatures can boost HGH levels, such as a study that was published in the Journal Of Human Kinetics which found that women’s levels of HGH were increased with just 30 minutes of being in a sauna.
Increase Your Tolerance For Heat
If you’re an endurance athlete, spending some time in the sauna after your workout session can help you gain greater tolerance for working out in the heat.
As reported by Bicycling, the sauna’s hot temperatures have the function of resetting the body’s thermoregulation thresholds, meaning that intense heat will feel less severe once you get used to it.
This can boost performance in extremely hot temperatures or at high altitudes.
However, it’s important to make sure the temperature in the sauna doesn’t become greater than 165 degrees, and a 30-minute stint in it is enough.
Listen to your body, though. If it starts to feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t force yourself to stay in there.
Will Saunas Help Me Lose Weight?
While there’s much talk of saunas helping you drop the pounds, any weight you lose from being in the sauna will be water weight.
You lose a pint of water via sweating from a brief period in the sauna, Harvard Health suggests, which further highlights the importance of rehydrating afterwards.
Can Saunas Detox You?
There’s no evidence that sweating in a sauna can release toxins from the body, Healthline reports.
The bottom line is that you sweat to prevent your body from overheating. It’s your liver and kidneys that have detoxifying functions in the body.
How Long Should I Stay In A Sauna If I’m A Beginner?
You should take time to get used to the heat in a sauna, so start with five or 10 minutes and slowly build up tolerance over a few sessions.
Always listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or otherwise unwell, stop.