Saunas have become more popular over the last few years due to data from research proving saunas aid in recovery after tough workouts. After being popular for centuries in Finland and slowly spreading across the globe, sauna use dropped off early in the 20th century. However, the modern use of saunas is usually paired with a complete workout routine, which maximizes its benefits.
Heat from the sauna has a direct effect on the human body’s function. Warming the body in temperatures of 170 degrees to 212 degrees Fahrenheit encourages the body to produce heat shock proteins that help repair other types of proteins, including rebuilding muscles and improving cellular functions. Other benefits of using the sauna include:
- Improved physical fitness and endurance
- Cellular repair, leading to decreased inflammation
- Better immune system response
- Improved mental health, which can enhance your mood
- Reduced risk of hypertension
- Muscle relaxation, which reduces pain
- Improved blood circulation
- Improved body-temperature management
There is also a decent amount of data showing sauna sessions can improve cardiovascular fitness without the impact or central nervous stress typically caused by traditional cardiovascular exercises.
Benefits of a Post-Workout Sauna Session
After a tough workout, a sauna session can spur a faster recovery. But try to avoid the sauna before a workout, which can pre-fatigue the body because it’s working hard to keep you cool. However, if you want to use the sauna on a cold day to warm up for a few minutes before your workout, you should be fine.
The heat from the sauna keeps blood vessels dilated for longer once a workout has ended, allowing blood to flow throughout the body with ease as it delivers nutrients to and removes waste from the muscles you just worked. Relaxing in the heat can also help shift your mental state away from your training session to a more introspective state where you connect to your breath and heart rate. If you exercise in the evening, warming the body before going to bed can help with sleep quality since body temperatures drop as you go into deeper sleep states. Having a higher starting temperature should make the drop more dramatic, allowing for a deeper sleep state. This is the reason hot showers are recommended at night, and cold showers/baths are better in the morning (these create feelings of alertness).
Recommendation for Use
If you are sensitive to heat or have never been in a sauna before, start by spending three to five minutes in the room slowly and build up over time to avoid negative reactions to heat exposure. A few minutes in the sauna several days per week is shown to be most impactful—three 20-minutes sessions each week is a good goal to work towards.
Placing a towel over your head while in the sauna will decrease the sensation of heat on the face and could make your sauna session more enjoyable. A key to recovery and great sauna experience is to stay hydrated. For every 10 minutes in the sauna, we recommend drinking an additional 16 ounces of water to replenish what you’ve lost through sweat.
Spending time in a sauna after a workout is a great way to promote recovery and improve your overall fitness. By itself, sauna use shows promising positive changes in the body. When combined with strength training, cardio, and mobility, you can start to maximize its effect on the body, which are directly correlated to improved quality of life, sleep, metabolism, and future performance in the gym. Just like any other component of your fitness routine, start light and build up time and frequency of sauna sessions over time. Check out the sauna at a VASA near you!