Despite being one on the most commonly ignored areas in the gym, taking a sauna after a workout has a range of health benefits that you may be missing out on. Most of us are guilty of hitting the weight room, having a quick cool down and heading for the showers, but taking the extra 10-15 minutes to hit the sauna can help improve your performance and recovery.
The basic premise of the sauna is pretty simple – sit and sweat for around 10 minutes – but it has been used for centuries around the world in various forms. In Finland a poll found that 99% of people took a sauna at least once a week, so it’s deeply ingrained in the culture in some places.
There are various benefits of a post-workout sauna. The intense heat increases the blood flow to the skin and causes blood vessels to dilate, and the increase in heart rate has a similar effect to a mild cardiovascular workout such as walking.
A study in New Zealand looked at the impact a 30 minute post-workout sauna had on the performance of 6 distance runners. For three weeks they completed a treadmill run before their sauna session, then for the following three weeks they completed the run without the sauna. The researchers found that a post-workout sauna “produced a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.”
The sweating involved in the sauna can help the body clear out metabolic waste, and the heat can help reduce muscle and joint pain and is thought to help aid the recovery process. While it shouldn’t replace your normal post-workout recovery routine, hitting the sauna after you finish your stretching and mobility work is certainly worthwhile.
Some people will advocate a pre-workout sauna to help loosen up the bod and get the heart rate up a little. While this is obviously a personal preference, it shouldn’t replace your normal warm up and so it can be a little redundant. There’s also the risk that it could leave you overheated and dehydrated before your workout, which would hamper your performance.
The main risks of a taking a sauna after your workout are mostly around overheating and dehydration. Chances are you’ve been working up a sweat in the gym beforehand, so make sure to replenish some fluids before you hit the sauna. Around 500ml of water should be enough for most people, but there’s no harm in increasing this to be on the safe side.
Most gyms will have a cold shower or an ice bucket right outside the sauna, which is ideal for cooling you down and it’s incredibly refreshing. It works to vasoconstrict the blood vessels, and should help you from feeling lightheaded once you’re out of the heat.
As with anything that puts an unusual strain on the body, check with your doctor before you start taking regular saunas – particularly if you have issues with blood pressure, blood sugar or any sort of cardiovascular condition. They should be able to tell you if it’s safe for you and how often you should be able to go.
Try to limit your sessions to a few times a week, as you could end up running the risk of becoming dehydrated and there won’t be a lot of additional benefits. Taking the time to add a sauna after a workout is well worthwhile though, and if it’s available at your gym then you should at least give it a try!