Congratulations on completing a successful workout! (Pro tip: If you did it, you can consider it successful.) Your clothes are drenched in sweat, your water bottle is empty, and your muscles are burning. But dang, do you feel good about yourself!
You may feel inclined to take a cold shower and end your workout now. But what if we told you that a few more rounds of sweating could enhance your performance, speed up your recovery, and possibly provide immune benefits? And best of all: For this kind of sweat, you don’t even have to move your body.
The secret is available at most gyms and even an option for your own home gym—a good ol’ sauna session!
How To Use a Sauna After Workout
Before you hop into the sauna, make sure to shower off—it’s good etiquette and hygiene to clean yourself before entering the sauna, especially if you’re sharing it with others.
Here are a few other things you should keep in mind to have a safe and enjoyable sauna experience:
- Plan more than one session: For beginners, try an eight- to 10-minute sweat sesh with a 15- to 20-minute break in between, and repeat the process two or three times. As you get more accustomed to the heat, you can prolong your sauna bathing times.
- Cool off between sessions: It’s important to let your body rest between sauna sessions, especially if you’re new to the practice. If you do multiple sessions, take a cold shower or hop in an ice bath in between.
- Take off jewelry and adhere to clothing rules: Jewelry can heat up in the sauna and burn your skin, so it’s best to take it off beforehand. Read the signs and make sure that you stick to the rules, whether that’s to wear a bathing suit or do a bare-skinned bathe—either way, be courteous of your gym’s or spa’s regulations.
- Shower off: That rinse before you do your first round of sweating in the sauna is really, really important. It cleanses dirt and microbes from your body, which is an important hygienic step for your health and everyone else’s. Sweat from your workout or perfumes from body lotions may become more pungent as they heat up and upset other guests.
- Use a towel or sheet: Always sit on a protective layer so you don’t damage the wood in the sauna or get an infection. This may not necessarily apply in a steam room, but it can still be nice to sit on your own towel rather than a tile that someone else was just sitting (and sweating) on.
- Be quiet: Saunas are a great place for peaceful self-reflection. Keep conversations to a minimum so you don’t disturb other guests.
- Open and close the door quickly: Never keep the door to a sauna or steam room open for longer than necessary. You’ll end up letting a lot of the heat escape and create an uneven temperature in the sauna.
- Only stay as long as you can: Don’t push your body to its limits. Get out of the sauna immediately if you start to feel dizzy or uncomfortable.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of water and maybe a cup of juice to hydrate your body and make up for the water it loses in the sauna. You can also opt for a drink with electrolytes (like these Nuun tablets) to help your body recover.
- Cool off: Give your body enough time to cool off before you take your final shower and head home. This is important for homeostasis—that is, getting your body back to its set point—to prevent dizziness and light-headedness. Plus, this way, you won’t end up sweating into your clothes… again.
5 Benefits of Using a Sauna After Your Workout
Technically, you don’t need to complete a workout to reap the benefits of heat. Simply being able to sit and sweat it all out in a steam room or sauna can be relaxing, invigorating, and provide a host of benefits.
Although you’ll inevitably lose water weight because you’re sweating in the sauna, this is not an effective method of long-term weight loss. Make sure you stay hydrated and don’t use the sauna in the hopes of burning extra calories.
1. Reduces Muscle Pain
When you expose your body to heat, it widens your blood vessels and Harvard Health “Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful?” View Source the circulation of oxygen-rich blood in your body—which helps your Human Kinetics Journal “Relationship Between Blood Flow and Performance Recovery: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study” View Source , according to one study.
Another study showed that using the sauna before exercise may help people who are prone to muscle damage like cramps or strains. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine “Prophylactic Effects of Sauna on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness of the Wrist Extensors” View Source sauna use reduced their pain and improved muscle function in wrist extensors.
2. May Increase Your Endurance
Heat exposure after workouts may Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport “Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners” View Source , according to one study. Researchers studied competitive male runners and found that post-training sauna bathing increased the athletes’ run time to exhaustion by 32%. It also affected their red cell and plasma volume.
They concluded that the increase in blood volume during the sauna sessions helped the runners enhance the endurance of their running performance.
3. May Improve Your Immune System
The last thing you want is to work hard at the gym, only to be struck down by the common cold. Regular sauna use may improve your immune system and protect you from nasty viruses.
Scientific data here is limited. But in Journal of Human Kinetics “Effect of a Single Finnish Sauna Session on White Blood Cell Profile and Cortisol Levels in Athletes and Non-Athletes” View Source that evaluated nine trained runners and nine non-athletes in 15-minute sauna sessions, researchers found that regular sauna bathing may increase overall white blood cell count. This, in turn, may improve your immune defense.
4. May Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
During your time in the sauna, your heart rate may Harvard Health “Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful?” View Source . When you leave the sauna, it goes back down to normal. This fluctuation may improve your cardiovascular fitness over time and BMC Medicine “Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study” View Source of fatal cardiovascular disease.
5. May Protect You From Neurocognitive Diseases
Regular sauna use may have protective effects on neurocognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. A Finnish study suggests that men who did four to seven sauna sessions per week showed up to Age and Ageing “Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease in middle-aged Finnish men ” View Source compared to those who only did one per week.
Though encouraging—the study evaluated more than 2,000 people over the course of about 20 years—further studies are needed to establish a link between sauna bathing and reduced neurocognitive diseases.
What Kind of Sauna Is Best for You?
Before we get into how to use a sauna after your workout, let’s cover the most common types of saunas you’ll find at your gym or wellness center:
- Wood-burning: Wood-burning or wood fire saunas usually have a temperature between 176ºF and 194°F. The sauna rocks are heated by—you guessed it—burning wood below them.
- Electric or gas: These saunas have a similar temperature range to wood-burning ones, but it’s a bit easier to control their temperature. An electric or gas heater sits below the stones and raises the temperature in the room. Both of these saunas are also known as “Finnish saunas” and are typically very dry. Keep in mind that not all gas or electric saunas are safe to use while wet.
- Infrared: Infrared saunas run exclusively on electricity, meaning there are no rocks that heat up the room. The temperature is slightly lower, typically between 100ºF and 150°F, although you should raise the temperature to at least 140°F to reap the full benefits of your sauna session. The best part though: They’re small, designed to be installed at home, and cost approximately as much as a Peloton bike.
- Steam room: Also known as a Turkish-style sauna, the temperature in steam rooms is generally much lower (between 90ºF and 120°F), but the humidity will get you sweating a bit quicker.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of heat exposure you get after your workout. Whether it’s a nice steam, an infrared sauna, or a wood-burning one—your body will get similar benefits from each treatment.
Have you already checked if your local gym has a sauna? If you need to upgrade your membership or want to visit a spa instead, don’t forget to use the Ness app so you can collect points and rewards for future self-care investments.
- Your blood circulation nearly doubles in the sauna: A sauna benefits your heart health, as long as you practice sauna safety (May 2020)
- Increase in blood flow helps your muscles recover faster: Relationship Between Blood Flow and Performance Recovery: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study (August 2016)
- Prophylactic sauna use may reduce muscle pain and increase function: Prophylactic Effects of Sauna on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness of the Wrist Extensors (June 2015)
- Regular sauna bathing may improve immune system: Effect of a Single Finnish Sauna Session on White Blood Cell Profile and Cortisol Levels in Athletes and Non-Athletes (December 2013)
- Infrared sauna bathing may improve mood: Can Sitting in a Sauna Ease Depression? (July 2016)
- Sauna bathing may increase endurance: Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners (July 2006)
- Sauna bathing may increase your heart rate by up to 30% or more: A sauna benefits your heart health, as long as you practice sauna safety (May 2020)
- Using saunas may reduce your risk of fatal cardiovascular disease: Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study (November 2018)
- Sauna bathing may reduce risk of neurocognitive disease by 66%: Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men (March 2017)
- Wood-burning saunas usually have a temperature between 176ºF and 194°F: Wood Fire Sauna Traditions: How to Cool Down When You Heat Up (January 2017)
- The temperature in electric or gas saunas is easier to control than that of a wood-burning one: Ideal Sauna Temperature: How Hot Is Your Sauna?
- A heater sits below the stones in a gas or electric sauna: Electric sauna heaters
- Infrared saunas run exclusively on electricity: Ideal Sauna Temperature: How Hot Is Your Sauna?
- Steam rooms are also known as Turkish-style saunas: TYPES OF SAUNAS
- Sauna etiquette: SAUNA RULES
- Electrolytes are a good source of energy for your body after a sauna session: Proper Sauna (March 2018)