Perfect after an intense workout: sauna and heat

Many gym-goers or athletes see a visit to the sauna after a workout as mandatory. First and foremost, the stressed muscles should relax faster, muscle regeneration should be initiated and the entire body should be allowed to recover. Because the faster muscles can recover, the faster their performance is restored.

Fitness studios almost always offer a combination of strength training and sauna, and not without reason. Is it therefore advisable to take a sauna immediately after exercise? To answer this question, we should first consider what effect the sauna has on the organism.

The total body temperature of the sauna user increases during sauna. This is called overheating (hyperthermia). This is because we override the body’s own response mechanisms to heat during sauna bathing. Because even though we sweat, there is no evaporation effect in the sauna (due to the high ambient temperature) and therefore no heat release, while heat continues to be constantly supplied to the body over the period of the stay. The temperature of the skin increases from 30-32°C to approx. 40-42°C, while the heat in the body core increases by approx. 2°C (Weineck 2010, 795). This reverses the relationship of the temperature of the body core to the skin, because otherwise the skin is always cooler than the core. Increasing the core body temperature in this way raises metabolic activity to such an extent that total energy expenditure increases by up to 40%. This effect is best observed in the skin cells, because cell renewal is running at full speed there (Fritzsche/Fritzsche 1975, 15; Weineck 2010, 795).

This is also supported by a study from the American Council on Exercise (Iwen et al. (2019) Int J Res Ex Phys. 15(1):1-12). Staying warm after exercise can enhance this effect.

The researchers tested three groups – a control group, one that spent 30 minutes in hot water, and another in which participants wore a sauna suit after exercise.

Both passive warming strategies were equally sufficient to increase core temperatures, and both remained below temperatures (39°C, 102°F) that could increase the risk of heat illness.

After three weeks, mean VO2max* and lactate threshold changes were “statistically significantly greater” in both the hot water and sauna groups compared with the control group. The researchers said these post-exercise heat interventions allow people to “extend their training without increasing volume and/or intensity, meaning they can achieve performance gains without increasing the risk of overtraining or injury.

So, is heat in a sauna session after intense physical training done in the pre-run recommended or not??

Definitely yes! Because the above explained hyperthermia in the sauna leads in the muscles, cartilage, tendons and ligaments to an increased blood flow and therefore to an accelerated regeneration. The restoration of performance is achieved more quickly and not only in professional athletes.

Thus, a sauna session after training is a useful way to support the body after endurance sports or intensive strength training for effective recovery and regeneration of the muscles.

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*VO2max = The maximum oxygen uptake. This indicates the maximum number of milliliters of oxygen that the body can utilize per minute in a state of exertion. It is given in milliliters of oxygen per minute.

Recommended reading on this topic (use the translator if necessary):

Think hot tub not ice bath
Post-exercise recovery is accelerated by heating
Sauna after Training (German)
Amplifying exercise
Heating Strategies Affect Endurance Performance
How sauna and sport complement each other (German)