Recovery 101: The Benefits Of Sauna Use
One of the things I have always believed is that there is no such thing as overtraining. There is only something I call “under recovery”. What does that mean exactly? Basically it means that as long as you are paying attention to recovery (i.e. taking care of yourself) you can train as much as you want. I have preached the value of getting a good nights sleep, managing your stress and in engaging in activities like massage and recovery walks but something I haven’t talked about is using the sauna as a recovery tool.
The sauna can be an incredible tool to help take your training to the next level. Frankly, it is something I use on a daily basis. It has become a part of my ritual and has allowed me to increase my training volume and intensity.
Currently I am spending 30-45 minutes in the sauna per session. Most days I will do one session but when I have time I will do two. I always follow it up with an ice cold shower.
There’s a lot of science to back up Sauna use but in “plain english” here are some of the specific benefits you can expect to see from regular Sauna use.
1) Benefits Relating To Muscles, Pain, and Joints
Increased circulation may help reduce muscle soreness, improve joint movement, and ease arthritis pain. In the high heat provided by a sauna the body releases endorphins. These endorphins can help minimize the pain of arthritis and muscle soreness. In one study I found, the pain relief induced by a sauna was attributed to an increase in the release of adrenaline and growth hormones. This type of pain relief is especially important to me because of the injuries I have incurred throughout my fighting career. I often suffer from a sore back, hands, feet, knees, and shoulders. The sauna helps alleviate those symptoms.
Because body temperature rises from the heat of the sauna the blood vessels dilate This increases blood circulation. The increased blood flow speeds up the body’s natural healing process allowing me to train with more intensity with greater frequency.
Finally a sauna can also help reduce muscle tension and eliminate lactic acid.
2) Immune Function
The less you get sick the more progress you make in regards to your fitness. Above and beyond that who likes being sick anyway?
After a sauna session, the body increases the number of white blood cells which shows that use of a sauna stimulates the immune system. Curiously in one study, there seemed to be a greater benefit to the immune system in athletes when compared to non athletes. There are also Finnish and German studies which show that regular sauna use leads to a 30% less chance of getting a cold and influenza.
3) Stress Relief
We discussed how heat in a sauna improves circulation. It may also promote relaxation. This can improve feelings of “well-being”. Saunas also encourage the body to go into a parasympathetic state which allows us to de-stress, rest, and heal. Saunas have been shown to help lower stress hormones like cortisol.
I have chronicled some of my battles with stress and the highly negative effect stress has had on my life and athletic career. The majority of diseases we face are partially stress-related. Part of my stress relief strategy is to get some “quiet time” each day. Spending 30 minutes in a nice warm sauna free from distractions from the outside world help clear my mind and relax. I look at it as my mediation time.
In addition saunas can induce a deeper sleep and also help battle chronic fatigue. Both help contribute to stress relief.
4) Flush Toxins
Deep sweating in a sauna can reduce levels of lead, copper, zinc, and mercury. All of these are toxins commonly absorbed from interacting with our environment. Sweating also rinses out bacteria from the epidermal layer of the skin and the sweat ducts. Cleansing of the pores my also increase capillary circulation. So in essence you will have healthier skin, look better, and feel better.
5) Cardiovascular Performance
How does a sauna increase your cardiovascular performance or fitness?
In very basic terms in the heat of a sauna your body core temperature rises. As a response to the increased heat level the blood vessels dilate and there’s an increase in cardiac output. It can raise as much as 70 beats per minute. Some people hit heart rates over 150 beats per minute. This helps train the cardiovascular system.
There’s also lot of research out there that suggests that regular use of the Sauna can improve your cardiovascular fitness as well as endurance. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport published research that found using a sauna after exercise resulted in an improvement in running performance, Researchers suggest this is likely due to increased blood volume in the body. There have also been similar results seen in cyclists. Use of a sauna after exercise increased blood plasma volume which is a good indicator of endurance performance.
Research has also shown that 30 minutes of sauna use can cause an increase in oxygen consumption and red blood cell production. What does that mean? Better cardiovascular performance and better endurance.
There are studies which suggest that sauna sessions can increase endurance performance by as much as 19%.
We have talked about performance but when it comes to health Saunas have also been known to lowers the risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary disease.
6) Heat Shock Proteins and Other Good Chemicals
We have discussed the many benefits of the sauna but we haven’t discussed Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) The sauna can help increase Heat Shock Proteins.
Why do you want to have higher levels of these?
a) Heat Shock Proteins can help with muscle regrowth.
b) Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are used by your cells to counteract potentially harmful stimulus, including environmental stress from pollutants, toxins, heat, cold, exercise stress and more.
c) They help with muscle growth, help prevent muscle catabolism and Fat Loss
Saunas have also been known to increase levels of Human Growth Hormone. Finnish researchers have come to the conclusion that using a sauna can improve the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) produced by the body. Human growth hormone is extremely important in not only muscular growth but also recovery. it also helps promote protein synthesis.
Both of these chemicals can greatly help with your level of recovery and your training frequency and intensity.
With all these benefits why wouldn’t you use the sauna. As I mentioned above it’s become a daily part of my routine.
A lot of people ask how much time I spend in the sauna. I do it in 30 minute sessions. Sometimes I will even do two sessions in a day.
The reality is that it doesn’t cost me anything, helps me to train harder, makes me feel better, and helps me perform better. There are also no known negatives from sauna use.
It’s become my number one tool to help my training frequency and intensity. I’d strongly recommend you make time for one.