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Sauna Training – A Science Backed Guide for Athletes

Sauna Training – A Science Backed Guide for Athletes

Sauna training has been a secret of endurance athletes for many years. Especially Scandinavians who are experts in long distance cross country races like the Vasaloppet have used saunas as part of their challenging training regime. But what can it do for you? 

Sauna Training for athletes to increase plasma volume

The University of Silesia in Katowice did a study with cross country elite athletes. The athletes completed heat acclimation sessions consisting of ten Finnish sauna baths. There was a 2 days rest between 5 and 6 heat exposures (medium-term heat adaptation, MHA). 

How to use sauna training

Participants spent a total of 45 min in sauna (sauna bathing per day, an average temperature at face height 90° ± 2 °C, and average relative humidity 12 ± 4%). They did three sessions of 15 min each. The participants took showers of 4–6 min showers in between to cool the body. The sauna baths took place in the afternoon at the same period.

If you are interested in human performance optimization you might enjoy learning how Ralph uses PEMF therapy as part of his performance optimization strategy for professional world class athletes.

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Effects of sauna training

After ten finnish dry sauna baths there was a certain decrease in resting heart rate. Furthermore, there was a small increase in plasma volume in the elite cross-country skiers. But research shows that sauna treatment has little effect on the thermoregulation process in the cross-country skiers.

Another study reported that 30 minutes of daily postexercise sauna bathing for ten days contributed to expansion of plasma volume after 4 days (+17.8%, 90% CI: 7.4–29.3%). Afterwards the volumes returned to presauna levels by days 7–10. This suggests that sauna can be used as a performing enhancing exercise as part of preparation for sports events.

Sauna Training To Strengthen Athletes Immune System

“Sauna bathing could be recommended for athletes as a means of enhancing immunological defense.”

Performance Experts On Sauna Training For Athletes 

Rhonda Patrick – Sauna benefits for Athletes

Have you ever heard about Dr Rhonda Patrick? She is an expert on longevity and optimal health. According to her research “heat stress from using the sauna may modulate improvements in physical fitness and athletic performance. The reason is that it increases endurance and maintains or promotes gains in muscle mass.”

Tim Ferris – Sauna for Human Performance Optimization

Like Dr. Ronda Patrick, Tim Ferris is  an expert on performance optimization. They are both big fans of the effects of hyperthermic conditioning. 

What is Hyperthermic conditioning

The term describes the effects on the human body, when being exposed repeatedly to sauna visits. The body adapts to the heat stress. In addition, the heat acclimation has positive effects. They are a boost in muscle hypertrophy by increasing net protein synthesis.

Tim Ferris reports the following:

  • “For example, two 20-minute sauna sessions at 80°C (176°F) separated by a 30-minute cooling period elevated growth hormone levels two-fold over baseline. 
  • Two 15-minute sauna sessions at 100°C (212°F) dry heat separated by a 30-minute cooling period resulted in a five-fold increase in growth hormone.
  • Two one-hour sauna sessions a day at 80°C (176°F) dry heat (okay, this is a bit extreme) for 7 days help increase growth hormone by 16-fold on the third day. But the growth hormone effects generally only lasts for a couple of hours post-sauna.
  • The combination of hyperthermia and exercise can induce a synergistic increase in growth hormone.”

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Sauna Training Before or After Workout

You can use sauna sessions as a training element itself. Or you can use it for relaxation or prevention purposes.

Benefits of Sauna Before a Workout

No matter if you workout at home or at the gym. High-intensity of exercise or unaccustomed eccentric exercise can cause the phenomenon of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD).

EIMD usually causes negative effects in your body.

  • cramps, 
  • muscle strain, 
  • impaired muscle function
  • delayed-onset muscle soreness.

A study focused on the effects of the wrist extensor muscle group found positive effects of sauna intervention. It helped reduce EIMD symptoms in pain intensity and muscle function. 

It is also possible that sauna hyperthermia improves

 by increasing blood flow to muscle. The reason is that this mechanism can help to bring fresh blood, oxygen, nutrition and hormone to the muscle. This is crucial for its efficient function. 

Professional jockeys use sauna sessions as part of their exercise regime. It helps them warming their muscles before competing. 

“For us sauna bathing is fun. It not only helps us to lose weight prior to a race. In addition, sauna gets us focused. We always ride better after having warmed our muscles in a sauna,” says Champion Jockey Filip Minarik. “Every major racecourse has a sauna. I have always wondered why other sport stadiums don’t offer that to their athletes.”  

Sauna Training For Weight Loss    

For some athletes weight plays a major role. Mixed martial artists, boxers and jockeys have to step on the scales before each competition. Therefore, they use sauna to lose weight (fluids) to temporarily lose weight. They train their bodies to this regime successfully. 

Benefits of Sauna After a Workout

According to Ferris “acclimating your body to heat stress by intermittent whole-body hyperthermia via sauna use (“hyperthermic conditioning”) has been shown to:

Enhance endurance by:

  • Increasing nutrient delivery to muscles thereby reducing the quantity of glycogen stores.
  • Reducing heart rate and reducing core temperature during workload.”

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Why Sauna Training Is a Must for Every Athlete

Every elite athlete needs to be fit, healthy and balanced. Sauna training supports those goals.

  • Sauna helps to prevent injuries and boosts regeneration
  • Strengthen the cardiovascular system
  • Enhances performance
  • Sauna yoga improves athlete`s flexibility
  • Lifelong sauna boosts lifelong fitness

If sauna is new to you we recommend to get familiar with sauna rules and sauna etiquette.

Start implementing sauna training – you will love what you can be.

The material on this blog is for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before undertaking the protocols, diet, exercises, techniques, training methods, or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein.

Antje Diana Baumgarten

Antje Diana Baumgarten

I believe that the things we do and the products we use determine our lifestyle. Whether your ultimate goal is to optimize your health, fitness or well-being. I introduce you to content that has the true potential to make a significant difference to how we live, love, perform, learn, look, exercise, travel, relax, sleep, work and more.

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