I’ve seen a lot of people at the gym hop in the sauna before they work out.
They think that standing in a warm room is a proper warm-up for their body; however, they are mistaken.
There are much better ways to warm up your body for exercise than standing in a sauna.
Sauna bathing isn’t a short practice.
The benefits of being in a sauna really take into effect after 15 to 20 minutes of time in the sauna.
Your body’s heat response to being in a sauna is much more beneficial post-exercise.
The origin of sauna bathing
Saunas were never meant to be for short-term use.
People have been using saunas for centuries. It took them time to gather firewood and other appropriate materials to start a sauna.
People used the sauna for hours on end.
They weren’t spending all that time to prepare for a quick, 10 minute sauna session.
Nowadays with electric heaters, you can turn a sauna on with the flip of a switch. It’s easy for people to hop in and out quickly, with gym saunas always running.
However, that does not give you the complete benefits of using a sauna.
This is why you should use the sauna after workouts
Heat-stress for recovery
Recovery is a critical aspect of your workout that often goes neglected.
Heat, mobility, and sleep are the best forms of recovery. Yes, heat is better than ice for recovery.
Ice packs remove some of the pain, but the ice pack is more of a top-down modulation that can have a placebo effect.
Ice sludges the tissue and keeps the cells that need to be removed from leaving the area.
Stimulating a nerve activates it. If you cool it, it becomes inactive.
When the activity comes back it will rebound with greater pain because neurons become hyperactive when heating back up.
So heat is more beneficial for wound healing and for pain than ice is.3
Your body increases blood flow throughout the body, as part of its response to heat stress. This fuels your muscles with glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen.
Then there is growth hormone release.
Growth hormone is critical for the repair and recovery of muscles.4
The sauna will dramatically increase growth hormone levels in the body. One study showed a 16-fold increase in growth hormone after sauna use.5
Your body also releases these heat shock proteins, as part of your heat response. Heat shock proteins help repair damaged proteins, ensuring they maintain proper structure and function.
The sauna has been shown to reduce pain and stiffness significantly.
Your body releases anti-inflammatory compounds, such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol. Additionally, positive stress on the body causes it to release natural pain-killing endorphins.6
The sauna for muscle mass
Maintaining muscle mass is also a critical component of the recovery process. Muscle hypertrophy is the increase in the size of your muscles, like when you lift weights.
Muscle atrophy is the decrease in the size of your muscles from lack of use. So when you break your arm and your arm is in a cast it becomes smaller and weaker because of disuse. That is muscle atrophy.
A study showed that daily heat treatments applied to specific muscles during 10 days of immobilization prevented the loss of mitochondrial function. It also increased heat shock protein low and stopped muscle atrophy by 37%.7
As mentioned prior, growth hormone release is critical to your metabolism, repair, and the growth of new tissue.
With a shown 16-fold increase in growth hormone levels due to sauna use, it’s no wonder that the Huberman Lab Podcast8 said it was one of the three best lifestyle activities to increase growth hormone:
1) Increase deep sleep.
2) Exercise for 60- 75 minutes, max, and without working to failure.
3) Using the sauna for 20 to 30 minutes at 176-210°F.
These recovery and muscle-maintaining benefits come from using the sauna after workouts, as opposed to a few minutes prior to exercise.
You also get cardiovascular benefits while you recover.
One study found that runners who used the sauna after a workout for 30-minutes increased their ability to run to exhaustion by 32% compared to baseline.9
30 minutes of treatment in a sauna after exercise can increase oxygen consumption and red blood cell productions that parallels the effects of EPO. EPO is the illegal performance-enhancing drugs that many of the professional cyclists in the Tour De France we caught using. 10
You increase your cardiac output and heart rate just by sitting in a sauna. These benefits are coming after considerable time in the sauna.
That much time in the sauna leaves you tired and with loose muscles. Fatigued training, with loose muscles, can lead to injury. Hence why you use the sauna after workouts.
As Dan Gable says “I sweat to recover.”
Most people think that to get an effective workout, you have to sweat. That is not true.
Whether you work up a sweat or not doesn’t mean your workout was good or bad.
Sweating does have a ton of benefits though. And you don’t have to put your body through a painful workout to benefit.
Our body processes toxins through the liver and the skin. While the liver works on its own, sweating through the skin is a critical part of human detoxification.
And most people don’t sweat enough.
You are missing out on a major source of toxin elimination, if you don’t sweat regularly.
The sauna purifies the body from the inside out, by eliminating toxins through sweat. 11
Your body’s core temperature rises after exercise. This means that you’ll sweat even more, and faster, when using the sauna after exercise.
How long to use the sauna after workouts
Aim to use the sauna 20-30 minutes, post-exercise.
Many sauna studies show the robust benefits of sauna taking place after 20 minutes. A KIHD study of 2315 from Finland found dramatically better results for those who used the sauna 20 minutes compared to 11-19 minutes.
Those who used a sauna frequently (4-7x per week for 20+ minutes) were around 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular-related deaths.12
Traditional sauna temperatures range from 170-220°F.
Most public gyms don’t go over 195 because of regulations. Some gyms unfortunately keep their temperatures low, at 160. This means you’ll have to be in longer.
You can also use an infrared sauna to get added benefits of red light therapy. Infrared saunas operate at a lower temperature, mostly between 120-150 degrees.
You can stay inside an infrared sauna longer, due to the lower temperatures.
Using the sauna before workouts? Do this instead
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.
Soft tissue work, such as foam rolling, 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 increases your range of motion that was 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.
Breathing in warm-up
Your breath is your life force.
Many health problems stem from bad breathing habits. Breathing deserves a full book, not a blog post.
Mouth breathing leads 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 your 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.
- Insert your note here.
- Insert your note here.
- Huberman Lab Podcast
- Journal of Applied Physiology
- Huberman Lab Podcast
- Sauna has same effect as EPO.
- Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review.
- Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events.