I’ve seen a lot of people use the sauna before workouts. With public saunas in many gyms across America, it’s easy to see why people step inside prior to exercise. It warms you up.
I’m here to tell you to stop doing that. There are 2 problems with using a sauna before workouts.
Stepping in a sauna before a workout, for a few minutes, isn’t the best way to prepare your body for exercise.
Secondly, you miss out on all the benefits from the sauna after a workout in such a short session.
A better pre-workout than sauna
Many people struggle with joint pain, stiffness, and other injuries. The sauna is great for that; however, save that for after your workout.
A better warm up consists of foam rolling, mobility drills, and proper breathing.
Foam rolling, or any form of soft tissue work, is a great way to increase mobility and reduce stiffness. Foam rolling breaks up knots in your muscles with direct pressure and tension. This improves blood flow along with oxygen and nutrient delivery that is blocked by muscle knots. It also increase your range of motion that were prevented by the formation of those knots.
Most people are fine with a regular foam roller. I use a PVC pipe and the spiked foam roller that digs deep into my muscles.
Mobility is your ability to get to a desired position or posture. Not flexibility. The goal is to improve your range of motion.
Mobility is important for everyday life, as well as a warm up to prepare you for your workout. Try a dynamic warm up, instead of static stretching.
Here are a few to get you started, with more here.
Your breath is your life force. It is crazy how many health problems stem from bad breathing habits. Breathing deserves a full book, not a blog post. (The oxygen advantage)
Most Americans breathe from their upper chest instead of deep belly breaths. And mouth breathing lead to debilitating effects, like sleep issues, fatigue, facial structure changes, and reduced cognitive function.
Nasal breathing better circulates oxygen throughout your body. Mouth breathing doesn’t release the nitric oxide that is necessary like nasal breathing does. The release of nitric oxide is necessary to increase CO2 in the blood, and that is what releases oxygen. Mouth breathing doesn’t provide as much oxygen to you cells.
This leads to fatigue, stress, bad posture, facial structural damage, and larger health problems. Conversely, nasal breathing will improve your exercise performance.
You will also “feel it” more when being mindful on your breath during when doing mobility exercises because your muscles and body will be more attuned to itself.
Warming up by foam rolling and doing mobility drills, while focusing on your breath, is much more effective warm up.
Sauna after workouts
Saunas are ancient. They have been used in ceremonies such as birth of children, weddings, death of loved ones, religious or spiritual worship, and so on.
You didn’t just flip a switch to turn a sauna. There were no electric heaters or even wood burning fires that could be heated up quickly. Once the heat was going, families and friends were hanging around the sauna for hours. Not minutes.
I wrote an in-depth article sauna for athletes, which covers the main reasons to use a sauna after workout. In short, the heat from saunas has a number of effects that enhance the workout you just did. You will also recovery faster, benefit from additional sweating, and it will put you in a better mood.
Burn fat, grow muscles, recover faster
The heat from saunas cause your body to release growth hormone. Growth hormone release plays a big role in fat loss, muscle gain, and exercise capacity.
Sauna use has a similar effect on the body as exercise, thus improving your cardio. It has been shown in a number of studies to increase VO2 max and runners’ ability to go until exhaustion.
The heat also repairs muscle damage. It helps build muscles by increasing net protein synthesis and releasing heat shock proteins, in addition to growth hormone. These heat shock proteins helps grow muscles and repair damaged cells.
Using the sauna after a workout will super-charge your workout and speed up recovery.
Recovery is a critical aspect of your workout that often goes neglected. To rebuild your muscles and be prepared for your next workout, your body has to recover. Heat is one of the best forms of recovery. It helps rebuild muscle, and alleviate pain and stiffness post-workout.
It will also exhaust you. A true sauna session for 20-30 minutes with temperatures over 175 will leave you in no shape for a workout. You won’t have the same energy. Your muscles will be like Jell-O.
In addition to the exhaustion that heat and cardiovascular stress of a sauna session will cause you, it will also put you in a better mood after. This is because the heat stress increases beta-endorphins. These are your body’s natural opioids that are responsible for the good feelings associated with exercise, sex, and laughter.
For best results
The 20 minute mark is a good guide. It is obviously not perfect because it doesn’t take into account the sauna temperature and your heat tolerance. You will be able to build up to 20 minutes over time, as your body become more heat adapted.
You are most likely using a public sauna at the gym if you are considering using the sauna before a workout. Therefore, you often can’t control the temperature. It will be easier to stay in the sauna for 20 minutes at 160 degrees than 190 degrees so take that into account.