I was recently in a sauna with someone in there for the first time.
He did everything wrong.
He dressed like he was going to the club. I was wondering if he was lost because of his fresh white Nikes, accompanied by his gold chain and gold watch.
I patiently watched to see how he’d handle the sauna.
He took off his shirt within minutes.
A few more minutes later…That chain on his neck and his watch began to burn, forcing him to put his swag back in his locker.
He then came back and said to his friend…
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in a sauna before.”
Most people in gyms have no idea how to use a sauna.
I’m here to teach you how to use a sauna at the gym. You’ll learn sauna etiquette and tips to get the most out of your sauna experience.
Don’t worry. It’s not that complicated.
Let’s assume you have a basic understanding of the benefits of saunas and get into how to actually use the gym sauna.
Should you use the sauna before or after workouts?
Many people think the sauna is a pre-workout activity. It’s not.
Your off-days and/or right after a workout is the best time to use a sauna.
I have more time to relax and make the sauna a more therapeutic experience on my off-days.
It’s a great evening or afternoon activity, to decompress from the day.
Sometimes I do it late morning, as the last activity before I break my fast.
The sauna after workouts is great for recovery and muscle growth.
The heat activates a heat-stress response by the body. This increases blood flow throughout the body and delivers fuel to your muscles, such as glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen.
There is also the release of growth hormone, which is crucial for the repair and recovery of muscles. Hence, why after training is better.
Using the sauna before training will put you at risk of overheating, exhaustion, and injury.
When athletes’ performance declines during competition, it is usually because they are overheating.
Gym sauna etiquette
What do you wear in a sauna?
Saunas have been around for centuries and people have always gone naked.
Having said that, nudity isn’t common in most gyms in the US. Wrap a towel around your waist, in that case.
Don’t wear your sweaty gym clothes. Nor shoes.
That all brings bacteria and dirt into the sauna. The sauna is supposed to be a place of cleanliness.
You should shower with warm water, prior to entering.
Dry off completely. Dry skin sweats faster than when wet.
A fresh bathing suit or clean pair of shorts are acceptable but not ideal.
The concern with clothing is that a lot of it contains harmful toxins and plastics. A key reason to use the sauna is detoxification from these very harmful toxins.
And like the sauna newbie found out, don’t wear jewelry that’ll burn your skin.
I bring 2-3 towels into the sauna. One to sit on, or wrap around my waist, and another for sweat or lying down.
Remember, you’ll need a clean towel to shower with.
Now you are ready to enter the sauna.
What to do inside the sauna?
You must remember this one key thing, now that you are ready to enter the sauna.
You have to remember it both when you enter and when you leave.
Always enter and exit quickly, then shut the door firmly behind you.
People always swing the door wide open as they enter or leave the sauna. This lets all the hot air out and the cool air in.
When you walk inside a sauna you will most likely notice two or three levels of benches. Most people sit on the top benches because hot air rises.
If you get too hot you can always sit on the bottom bench.
Always sit on a towel for sanitary reasons.
Relax into the Heat.
The sauna is a relaxing, and therapeutic experience allowing you to compress from the day.
You can breathe through your nose, instead of your mouth. Nasal breathing has a lot of benefits health benefits, whereas mouth breathing is very dangerous and is at the root of a lot of diseases.
Many people meditate in the sauna.
Can you talk in a sauna?
Saunas are a great social experience too.
People have always had deep conversations with friends and family members, in saunas. It’s a great place to connect with loved ones.
I’ve met plenty of people at various gym saunas and enjoyed casual conversations.
You do have to be respectful of other people and read the room.
Can you use your phone in a sauna?
Do not bring your cell phone into the sauna.
It will overheat, eventually.
More importantly, other people are not there to listen to your music, your phone conversations, or your entertainment.
You would think this would go without saying…But do not listen to your music on full blast, on speaker, in a sauna room full of those who don’t want to listen to your music.
You would think this would also go without saying…But do not talk on the phone in a sauna with other people around.
Some people like to listen to podcasts or music. The Apple AirPods work in a sauna, so you can leave your phone outside but still listen on your headphones.
How to use a sauna with rocks
Most gym saunas are traditional saunas. There are sauna rocks over electric heaters, which efficiently heat the room.
Pouring some water over the rocks creates steam, known as Löyly.
Löyly means more than just steam in Finnish culture. It is more like the life force of the sauna.
In Finish saunas, you have a bucket of water and a ladle to pour the proper amount over the rocks.
Public saunas in the US don’t have that option.
Some saunas even have signs saying “do not pour water over the rocks.”
This is nonsense.
Steam is always an integral part of the sauna experience.
The hot air can be hard to breathe in a dry sauna. Steam makes it easier to breathe.
Pouring water over the Rocks increase is humidity by 10 to 30%.
The increase in humidity makes you sweat more, without increasing the temperature.
Essential oils in the sauna
Pouring water, mixed with essential oils, over the sauna rocks is the easiest enhancement you can make to any sauna experience.
I bring a large bottle of water and mix it with essential oils.
Eucalyptus is the best.
Everybody loves the hint of eucalyptus that gives off after I pour water over the rocks. People constantly thank me because it smells great and it opens up your sinuses.
Other oils like peppermint and tea tree are good too.
Just be careful to not use too much eucalyptus because it is is a strong smell.
You also want to stand back from the steam, as your pour water on it, because it can burn.
How long should you sit in a sauna for?
Scientific research shows that a sauna session of 20 + minutes leads to better results than those who use the sauna for 10 to 19 minutes.
There was a study that showed those who use the sauna for 20 minutes or more or less likely to die from coronary heart or cardiovascular disease and those who use the sauna for 11 to 19 minutes.
Distance runners increased their V02 max, and ability to run to exhaustion, by doing a 30-minute sauna session, post-workout.
It takes time to get heat acclimated so newer users should go in as long as they can, without overwhelming your body.
That doesn’t mean trying to last as long as possible.
It is best to work your way up to at least 20 minutes in the sauna. It is okay if you cannot last for 20 minutes straight or cannot handle high heat right now.
The more frequently you use the sauna, the more heat acclimated you get. Therefore, you will last longer.
You can stay in an infrared sauna longer because the temperature is lower.
Most spas offer infrared sauna sessions for 45 to 60 Minutes.
Listen to your body, not the clock.
A sample sauna protocol
Most gym-goers do one round in the sauna, then they are done.
In Finland, sauna sessions can last a couple of hours long. They take plenty of breaks between sauna sessions.
You will definitely benefit from one 20-30 minute sauna round; however, doing a couple of rounds will take you to another level.
You can use the sauna for 15-20 minutes, then cool off.
The cool-off can just be exiting the sauna and drinking water or jumping into a cold shower.
Re-enter the sauna when ready. Repeat the cycle.
When using the sauna after a workout, I generally do 1 long session or 2, with a very short break in between. I am in the sauna for a total of 25-35 minutes.
During my off days, I do about 3 sessions with a longer break in between rounds. Overall time in the sauna is between 40-60 minutes.
Always finish with a cold shower
A cold shower will feel amazing. It will also cool your body temperature down back to homeostasis.
There’s a lot of great research on hot cold therapy. Heat and ice are a great way to build up your thermoregulation system.
It is very taxing on your body to heat your body up, then cool your body down.
Northern Europeans generally jump into a cold body of water like a lake or a river or the ocean or even the snow to cool off from their sauna sessions.
You will most likely just have a cold shower at the gym.
There is tons of great research on the benefits of cold showers.
One being is able to turn white fat (bad) into Brown fat (good).
You probably seen Wim Hoff and his ice baths.
The cold will boost testosterone.
I usually stay in the cold shower for 3-5 minutes; however, you may start to get benefits from a cold shower after just 20 seconds.
How often should you use the sauna?
Research is showing that the best results are to use a sauna 4-7 times per week.
People who have to use the sauna 4-7 times per week we reported to have dramatically less likely to die from all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or suffer from other diseases like Alzheimer’s.
This gives you ample opportunities to use the sauna both on off-days or after training.
What not to do in a sauna
- Wear sweaty clothes in the sauna
- Be loud and disruptive
- Use your phone in any way
- The sauna is not your locker room
- No bags
- No working out. Relax instead.
- And do not make others feel uncomfortable
Additional sauna tips
How to clean yourself from the sauna
You’ll eventually sweat a ton in the sauna. There will be sweat dripping from your face.
A lot of people ask if they should wipe the sweat off their face. When sweat gets in my eyes I use a towel to pat the sweat dry.
I don’t wipe the sweat off my face, I pat it dry.
It’s important to clean the sweat off your body right when you are done. You can clog your pores and cause acne if you do not clean the sweat off your body.
Most of the sweat is water; however, that sweat contains some of the toxins that you just sweat out.
You’ll want to use a good quality soap to clean these toxins out, while your pores are open.
You likely won’t know the ingredients that are listed on the back of your soap or body wash bottle.
Unfortunately, a lot of commercial products use GMO’s and other toxins in their soaps.
Dr. Bronner’s magic soap uses only natural ingredients and puts it all over their label for everyone to know.
How much water should you drink for the sauna?
There is a surprising amount of controversy over how much water you should drink. Some people say 4 glasses, others say it’s better to be a little dehydrated.
Your body knows how to regulate its thirst.
Drink water throughout the day, both before and after your sauna.
Do not drink Gatorade or other “energy” drinks that are loaded with sugar.
Infrared saunas after workouts
Infrared saunas are much less common in a public gym. I’ve actually never seen one.
They are generally in spas or at home.
With that said, you can still use an infrared sauna after your workout.
The infrared wavelengths give you added benefits for muscle repair and detoxification.
Although it will not get as hot as a traditional sauna. And you most likely only have access to a regular sauna.