Sauna Before Or After Your Workout?

May 4, 2022

You may have a love-hate relationship with the sauna. You only get in to sweat before a weigh-in which you hate. But you love the results of quickly getting you in your weight class. But did you know you can take advantage of the sauna during a regular training week? The question becomes, should you sauna before or after a workout?

Using the sauna after a workout is better than before because you can enhance your cardio by sitting for 30 minutes. Using the sauna before doesn’t provide any additional benefits other than potentially lowering the rise in blood pressure when training.

The sauna is the easiest way to improve your cardio by doing nothing but sitting in the heat. It’s a pretty rad strategy that can pay dividends for your next fight preparation.

Sauna Before Or After Your Workout?

The general rule of thumb is to sauna after your workout. One benefit to using the sauna before a training session is attenuating the rise in blood pressure during moderate exercise [1].

However, this is not relevant when you are a fit fighter and is better served for the overweight general population who may have high blood pressure. Using the sauna after your workout has many exciting benefits for combat sports performance.

Benefits Of Sauna After Your Workout

Benefits Of Sauna After Your Workout

Enhance Aerobic Endurance

This is where I believe the sauna has the most impact on your fight performance. Sitting in a sauna directly after exercise has been shown to reduce 60-second heart rate recovery by 13%, reduce resting heart rate by 10%, and increase blood plasma volume by 18% [2].

A faster heart rate recovery gives you more room to move before fatiguing as you go from round to round or fight to fight. A lower resting heart rate is an excellent indicator of aerobic development. Increased blood plasma volume is correlated with a 32% increase in run time to exhaustion in triathletes and runners [3].

This means you’re able to go longer before gassing out. Runners have also seen improved running speed at 4 mmol.L-1 by 4% and a 7 beats per minute reduction in submaximal heart rate after 3 weeks of using the sauna [6].

FREE Strength & Conditioning Program To Never Gas Out In The Cage

Essentially, they improved their ability to stay predominantly aerobic at high intensities, a key conditioning component.

Improve Recovery

Depending on when you use the sauna will be good or bad for recovery. You must remember that the sauna is another physiological stressor that can add more fatigue to the body. For example, using the sauna directly after a high-intensity swim reduced swim performance the next morning [4].

But when used directly after low-intensity endurance training, subjects jumped higher after 30 minutes in the sauna than those who didn’t, which indicated improved neuromuscular recovery [5].

How Long To Sit In The Sauna After A Workout?

Based on the current research, 30 minutes directly after a low-intensity workout is ideal. Doing this three times per week is enough to stimulate improvements in aerobic endurance.

Sauna Before Or After Workout To Lose Weight?

Sauna Before Or After Workout To Lose Weight

You should never use the sauna to lose weight. The only time you should use it in this instance is as an acute weight loss tool at the end of a weight cut to drop a small amount of water weight. It’s stupid to use the sauna as a weight-loss tool outside of this context.

You’re not losing any fat mass sitting in a sauna, just dehydrating yourself. Sitting in a sauna for MMA or boxing weigh-ins makes sense if you have a small amount of weight to lose for the scale.

Infrared Sauna After Working Out?

After working out, the far infrared sauna is just as good as a traditional sauna. The difference is a far infrared sauna is more tolerable for those who can’t handle the heat since their temperature ranges between 40° – 60°C.

However, the far-infrared light penetrates deeper than a traditional sauna, so you still receive the heat and benefits at a lower temperature [5].

Sauna Alternatives

I understand. Saunas aren’t the most money-friendly pieces of equipment to own. But there are other options you can use to take advantage of these gains. HigherDOSE does an epic portable sauna blanket at a fraction of the cost you can use after working out or for acute weight loss when weight.

HigherDOSE Sauna Blanket V3

A Portable, Cost Effective Infrared Sauna

Summary

If you’re wondering whether to sauna before or after your workout, sauna after. You’ll reap the benefits of enhanced aerobic endurance and potentially better recovery. However, avoid the sauna after high-intensity exercise and save it for low-intensity exercise. Further, I would avoid using the sauna during an intense fight camp as you are adding additional stress to an already hectic schedule.

References

1. Bogdanich, H., Kiger, J., & Santos, J. M. (2019). The Physiology Effects of a Finnish Sauna on Aerobic Exercise in College-Aged Individuals. Revista Contexto & Saúde19(37), 137-141.

2. Stanley, J., Halliday, A., D’Auria, S., Buchheit, M., & Leicht, A. S. (2015). Effect of sauna-based heat acclimation on plasma volume and heart rate variability. European journal of applied physiology115(4), 785-794.

3. Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S., & Cotter, J. D. (2007). Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport10(4), 259-262.

4. Skorski, S., Schimpchen, J., Pfeiffer, M., Ferrauti, A., Kellmann, M., & Meyer, T. (2019). Effects of Postexercise Sauna Bathing on Recovery of Swim Performance. International journal of sports physiology and performance15(7), 934-940.

5. Mero, A., Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M., & Puurtinen, R. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus4(1), 1-7.

6. Kirby, N. V., Lucas, S. J., Armstrong, O. J., Weaver, S. R., & Lucas, R. A. (2021). Intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing improves markers of exercise capacity in hot and temperate conditions in trained middle-distance runners. European journal of applied physiology121(2), 621-635.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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