By a show of hands, how many of you have, or typically sit in the sauna before your workout? I don’t see any hands, so that’s why I want to discuss this.
A lot of saunas have electric heaters in them, while the steam room will typically pump hot steam into the room. Wood burning saunas are out there too, but for much of this post, I’ll just be discussing electric sauna as opposed to wood-burning saunas.
In a sauna, the heat is somewhere between 150-170 degrees. I know that some can go significantly hotter, but commercial saunas at gyms usually stick to this heat range.
When you sit in a sauna your body temperature increases. To help cool itself off, it opens up the pores allowing the body to sweat. As air runs over the sweat it cools the body back down. It’s basically a survival mechanism. If your body didn’t sweat you could overheat and a range of dangerous outcomes could occur.
Lately, Infrared saunas and salt saunas have been receiving a lot of attention for their benefits. I’ll touch on these a bit later.
Health Benefits of Saunas
People have been using saunas for thousands of years actually, and the benefits have been felt by millions. Below are a few of the common benefits.
Benefit #1 of Saunas
So, people who advocate the benefits of saunas say that as your heart rate increases, it’s mimicking the effect of working out. If you sit in a sauna for 20 minutes and depending on how high your heart rate gets, from a cardio standpoint, it might be like running for 20 minutes.
Benefit #2 of Saunas
Sore muscles are a common side effect of workouts. Sitting in a sauna, with your heart rate elevated will circulate oxygenated blood to sore muscles, capable of providing relief. Your body may also release endorphins (feel-good hormones) such as noradrenaline and/or human growth hormones. These hormones can make you feel good and relaxed. Something we all crave.
A sauna can also provide temporary respiratory relief. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I have asthma, and sitting in the sauna for about 10 minutes opens up the airways for me. If I’m getting over a cold, the sauna also does great at breaking up congestion and phlegm.
So along with the perceived benefits, there are also things you should be aware of before using a sauna.
Precautions and Risks of Saunas
As mentioned above, the basic premise of a sauna is to get the blood flowing, open up the pores, and get your sweat on. Sweating excessively can lead to dehydration. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids before and during your sauna sessions. If you feel dizzy or nauseous at any time while you’re in a sauna, you need to exit immediately.
Blood Pressure Conditions
Saunas can cause blood pressure to fluctuate dramatically. If you’re pregnant or have any kind of blood pressure conditions, definitely consult with your doctor before sauna use.
This one probably goes without saying, but alcohol will further dehydrate you and could get you into trouble. I don’t want to get off-topic, but I know that sitting in saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs (especially) with alcohol seem great, but be very careful when doing this.
So those are the perceived benefits or at least the most common benefits people mention.
Now, let’s discuss how using a sauna before your workout might benefit you.
I have only used a sauna after my workout, never before, so in my research, this is what I learned about using them before working out.
Sauna Benefits Before Your Workout
Advocates of using the sauna before their workout, say it helps them loosen up. I can understand this. Before all my workouts, I stretch to loosen up the muscles. I wouldn’t advocate for replacing my stretching session for sitting in a sauna for a bit, but that’s just me. If anything I would do some of my stretching while in the sauna.
Others claim that using the sauna before their workout gets their body temperature up and elevates their heart rate. This is great for pre-workouts. Again, this makes perfect sense to me.
By increasing the body temp and elevating your core temperature, you’re preparing the body for moderate to strenuous exercise. Increased blood circulation pumps fresh oxygen to burning muscles, so I agree with this assertion.
Finally, I saw some claims of sweating out body toxins. I’m very much on the fence on this one. While I agree, getting a good sweat going makes me feel great, I believe it’s the role of kidneys and the liver to detoxify the body.
If someone can point me to solid scientific proof, I’m all for it. Until then, I’m a bit skeptical.
So how about sauna benefits after your workout. This is when I use the sauna, so let me share why I love a good sauna session.
Sauna Benefits After Your Workout
For me, hitting the sauna helps with muscle pain, it relaxes me, and I love sweating it out. The heat seems to help with reducing muscle soreness, and with my heart rate elevated, I know my body is pumping oxygen-rich blood to those muscles.
You’ve probably heard that stretching after your workout can help alleviate muscle soreness. When I do my post-workout stretching in the sauna, soreness the next day is always reduced. I’ve been doing this long enough now, I can feel it.
The only reason I don’t hit the sauna every day is it adds another 30-45 minutes to the gym. I’m one of those people that needs to shower after a sauna session. So between sitting in the sauna, and hitting the showers, sometimes I feel like I’m living in the gym. So I hit the sauna rarely.
Additionally, studies have shown that a few trips to the sauna for around 30 minutes per session can help with endurance and athletic performance. I”m not going pro in any sports, but improved endurance while I’m doing a run, is a benefit I’ll take every time.
Above I mentioned Infrared Saunas. I have never used them, but they seem to be all the rage right now. Again, researching what the infrared saunas can do, here’s what I came across.
Benefits of Infrared Saunas
Infrared Saunas uses light to create heat as opposed to warm air, used by traditional saunas. Proponents of infrared saunas say the light used, allows you to get the benefits of traditional saunas, but at a lower temperature. This allows a person to go longer in the sauna.
So, if I’m understanding correctly, instead of sitting in the sauna for 20-30 minutes, you can essentially double the length of time in the infrared sauna and get even more benefits.
Early studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headache, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit.
However, this is fairly new science so more testing needs to be done.
From my perspective, one of the greatest risks of using saunas is the dehydration and potential for overheating.
If an infrared sauna can produce the same benefits at a lower heat, reducing the common risks associated with traditional saunas, I’m all in.
I look forward to more research and results. If you’re ready to step up to the plate, infrared saunas are available for home use.
Another type of sauna you may have heard about is salt saunas. As an asthmatic, some of the research I’ve done on this appeal to me.
Benefits of Salt Saunas
Again, I’ve never used a salt sauna, but the research I came across, shows that adding salt to your traditional sauna benefits the respiratory system. According to proponents, breathing in Himalayan salt air can help stimulate the respiratory system’s natural ability to reduce inflammation, clear blockages, fight infections, and reduce discomfort.
As a person who has grown up with asthma, these kinds of claims make me want to give it a try. Even if it just helps alleviate congestion and cold symptoms, I’m eager to give it a shot.
Another benefit, I see customers saying, is it’s great for the skin. I have naturally dry skin and eczema. On the plus side, I didn’t have much acne growing up, and to this day, I don’t’ have problems with acne.
But, I do have itchy dry skin, and if a salt sauna can produce better feeling and looking skin, I’m excited to test it out myself. If you don’t have access to a salt sauna, I did find these home-use salt inhaler treatments.
Benefits of Saunas for Weightloss
As a health nut, I’m comfortable saying with almost absolute certainty, that losing weight will be the result of eating properly and implementing a routine exercise plan. I know that a lot of people say that using saunas will help you lose weight, and from a certain standpoint, I can see why they would say that.
After all, sitting in a sauna will increase your heart rate, which will result in burning more calories. Also, as your sweating, you’re losing fluid weight. I can’t deny either of those claims.
That being said, I would not suggest using saunas as your primary weight loss mechanism. Indirectly they may help, but if you are serious about losing weight, stick to stuffing your mouth with lean meats, veggies, and some slow-digesting carbohydrates. Throw in a few workouts throughout the week, and you’ll be in top shape before you know it.
Wrapping up Saunas Before or After Your Workout
Saunas can have a wide array of benefits. From producing feelings of relaxation, reducing muscle soreness, and opening up that respiratory system. I would recommend using them if you have access. I can see the benefits of using a sauna before a workout, but hitting the sauna post-workout has been, and probably always be my jam. No offense to those that like the benefits before the workout. I can see the appeal.
So, I guess it comes down to personal preference. Figure out what kind of sauna you enjoy and if it works better for you to hit it before or after your workout. Either way, you’ll be doing your body a favor by implementing some sauna sessions.
Let me know what saunas you like. Leave a comment below.