After reading that headline, you’re probably thinking “duh, I already hop in the sauna after my workout every time anyway” and you’d be totally wrong dingus.
As it turns out, you should be using the sauna (assuming you’re one of the lucky few who has a sauna available at their local gym) before your work out, not before. It’s a common misconception that heat from the sauna can help your sore muscles recover more quickly or something like that, but it’s mostly bunk.
What Sitting in a Sauna Actually Does to Your Body
Something pretty interesting about saunas, they’ve been around for a very long time. You’re probably familiar with Native American sweat lodges, a practice dating back centuries. Believe it or not, the process of sitting in a super hot box and sweating everything that’s in your body, out of it, is even more beneficial to the modern man. The first and most important to discuss is your overall nervous system. Bear with me here.
We’re constantly assaulting our bodies with crazy sugars, caffeine, salts, all this garbage our bodies aren’t normally meant to handle, putting us in a sort of artificial threat response, a survival mode.
It’s probably what’s causing all that extra stress you’ve got going on and it’s because you went and inadvertently activated your sympathetic nervous system. Characterized by dilated pupils, muscle contraction, decreased saliva production and all sorts of nasty side effects.
Sitting in a sauna encourages your body to go into what’s called a “parasympathetic” state, which is essentially turning off your “threat response”. This is going to encourage your body to digest, de-stress, heal, pretty much accelerate all the positive effects your body has the ability to do.
“What’s any of this have to do with exercise?” you’re shouting to your computer at the top of your lungs in a crowded office, no doubt.
What That Has to do With Excercise
It’s simple really, I mentioned earlier that sitting in a sauna post work out isn’t the way to go. According to Outside Online, that’s because it puts your body through what is essentially a passive form of exercise, which ends up delaying your body from starting its recovery process.
When you’re trying to recover from exercise, you want your heart rate to recover, and go back to normal. So slowing down your heart rate and increasing blood flow is counter-productive post-workout, essentially you’re delaying your the benefits the work out has on your body.
You’re probably thinking this means that slowing the heart rate and muscle regeneration prior to your work out is just as counter-productive, but that’s not the case either. Putting your body into a regenerative state pre-workout is allowing the benefits of the following work out to increase two-fold, as your body is working in tandem with your exercise routine.
That is to say, as you’re putting your body through exertion in a parasympathetic state, you and your nervous system are working together to improve the benefits of exercise.
Other Benefits of The Sauna
Shutting off your threat response and promoting recovery and muscle growth isn’t enough for you? Then it should please you to know that sweating it out in a sauna has a strikingly similar effect on the body to doing cardio, when you stay in there for longer than 5 minutes.
As your body temperature rises, it causes your blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow and your overall circulation. This makes it easier for oxygen and nutrients to flow into every part of your body more easily. Literally warming up your body will also relieve some immediate muscle pain and fatigue you might be experiencing,
Like I mentioned earlier, if you’re lucky enough to have a gym that has a sauna in it, use it, but use it intelligently. Get your body into the zone before you put it through whatever you’re going to put it through, and pair it up with some good stretching. You’ll be surprised at the difference in quality in will have to your workout!