Sauna: Good or Bad for Recovery?

By Peg Labiuk | 03/01/13
Sauna: Good or Bad for Recovery?

Photo: comedy_nose, "The Heat Is On" via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mountainpedalscoaching80903 Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at http://www.voler.com. To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at Marilyn@MountainPedals.net, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following question was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

Sauna: Good or Bad for Recovery

Hi Coach,

A couple of years ago I emailed in a query concerning hot tubbing after exercise classes or cycling. Your answer was hot tubbing is for socializing not recovery. Now I am wondering about the Sauna or the Steam Room. Would they fall into the same category as the hot tub? Have athletes used them to any advantage? Your thoughts?

Best,
Bill

Dear Bill,

This is a good opportunity to evaluate your recovery and relaxation time.  Since you reference your previous question about hot tubbing after exercise, I’ll assume that you are also thinking of sauna or steam post-exercise.  In that case, keep in mind that the most important things to do with your time after a workout are to:

stretch, while muscles are still warm

get out of wet clothes

rehydrate

replenish glycogen reserves, minerals, and electrolytes

reduce core body temperature

So, can sauna or steam help with any of these?  I have read about heat improving circulation and ridding the body of excess nitrogen generated by muscle use.  Normally, cold, like icing, is used to reduce swelling from muscle damage.  Something attracts you to the heat though.  So, give it a try, make notes, and see how it affects your recovery.  

In terms of taking care of the list of important things to do after a workout, you could also stretch while in there.  You could replenish (eat) and begin rehydrating.  Both types of heat treatments will demand additional hydration.  The main problem is that they augment the need for hydration and postpone the reduction of core body temperature, hence, the hesitation to recommend hot tub use. If you limit your time in the sauna or steam room to under 10 minutes, then I think you could stretch, eat, and start drinking fluids while in there.  If you find it relaxing to spend your time that way, then all the better.  However, once you are out, make sure that you continue to hydrate and reduce your core body temperature.   That may mean following the heat treatment with a cold shower.  Give it a trial period. Do the same workouts with the sauna post-workout three times, workouts with steam room three times, and of course you’ll have the “control” of the same routine without the heat to make a comparison with the results.   Let us know how it goes with the hot stuff!

Coach Peg

 
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