Benefits of Sauna After a Workout (How To Maximize Recovery)

Knowing which step a sauna session should be in your wellness routine can be tricky. Here are some of the benefits of sauna bathing after a workout.

Sauna exposure after working out has tangible benefits, including muscle recovery, weight loss, stress reduction, and toxin removal. Infrared saunas, specifically, can improve the symptoms of depression by up to 50% in certain patients. To limit risks, spend no more than 45 minutes exercising, limit your sauna session to 10 minutes, and hydrate. 

Keep reading to learn if it’s okay to sauna following a workout, about some of the potential benefits and risks associated with sauna exposure post-exercise, and how to go about using a sauna after working out. 

Is it okay to sauna after a workout?

Fitness, although strenuous, plays a pivotal role in helping to maintain a person’s health and well-being. Pairing a sauna session with your workout routine might be the ultimate endorphin release, but is it safe?

It’s generally okay to sauna after working out and can even increase calorie burning. However, there are some risks to pay attention to that include dehydration, overexertion, and injury if you push your body beyond its limits.

A 2020 study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine showed a significant increase in white blood cells and plasma volume of 27 healthy men when pairing an endurance or endurance/strength workout with a sauna session.

Another 2013 study that followed 43 men revealed that a single Finnish sauna bathing session has the ability to reduce the oxidative stress caused by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

On the contrary, according to a 2011 study, sauna bathing can pose extreme risks for those with cardiovascular pathologies. Furthermore, Mayo Clinic warns that a person can lose upwards of 1 pint of water for every 15 minutes of excessive sweating. 

For the above reason alone, it’s important to stay hydrated and remain vigilant when it comes to your health.

Is the sauna better before or after a workout?

So, should you hit the sauna before or after exercising?

Using the sauna before exercising is helpful for those seeking a short warmup prior to the gym. Visiting the sauna after exercising has greater net benefits, such as faster muscle recovery and expedited weight loss. Ultimately, it depends on your body and what you’re trying to achieve, as each order has specific benefits.

Important Note: Avoid using the sauna after a workout if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Doing so can further exacerbate these medical conditions.

Always speak to your doctor first if you’re unsure!

Potential benefits of using the sauna after a workout

There are several potential advantages of using the sauna after exercising. We’ve done some serious deep-diving into the medical literature to ensure that each benefit is backed by real, scientific research, and here’s what we found.

The 8 main benefits of using the sauna post-workout include:

  • Workout recovery
  • Weight loss
  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Reduced joint pain
  • Improvement for certain medical conditions
  • Cardiovascular strength
  • Better skin appearance
  • Toxin removal

Let’s get more granular below. 

Workout recovery

During a workout, your muscles sustain microscopic tears that result in Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Helping you to recover from your workout is by far one of the most prominent benefits sauna exposure can offer.

According to a rodent study, sauna bathing increases human growth hormone – commonly referred to as hGH, the hormone that helps repair injured muscles – by around 150%. Saunas promote healing and recovery by dilating blood vessels, allowing WBC to reach damaged areas, and stimulating the production of heat shock proteins.

These processes are pivotal in recovering from strenuous exercise, rebuilding muscle fibers, and allowing you to reach your fitness goals. 

Weight loss

People across the globe are constantly looking for new ways to promote weight loss. You can now add saunas to that list.

Initial weight loss from a sauna is typically attributed to water weight. However, consistent sauna visits, in addition to a balanced fitness routine, have the ability to increase a person’s metabolic rate and decrease body fat percentage.

A 2014 study that followed both women and men showed that consistent dry sauna use was able to reduce BMI in all study participants. Furthermore, saunas can also reduce the number of fat-soluble chemicals in our body that have been shown to inhibit weight loss.

Relaxation and stress reduction

There’s nothing quite like sitting in the sauna after a long day or a long workout.

A 2013 study found that while sitting in the sauna may cause cortisol (the primary stress hormone) to rise temporarily, the levels subsided by 25% below baseline following a session. Infrared saunas, in particular, have also been shown to reduce symptoms by 50% in patients suffering from depression.

Saunas are able to play a major role in reducing anxiety and stress and promoting relaxation. In fact, you can even meditate inside!

Reduced joint pain

Joint pain is something both younger athletes and the older population suffer from.

A 2004 study found that heat therapy is effective at treating wrist pain. Essentially, the heat from a sauna allows white blood cells and oxygen-rich blood to travel to the swollen site to help eliminate inflammation and remedy joint pain long term. 

Also noteworthy, a 2019 study that followed 37 participants discovered that using a traditional sauna 2x per day for 15 minutes has the ability to reduce back pain. This was measured using a verbal numerical rating scale (VNRS) and Oswestry disability index (ODI) scores. Overall, 70% of the study members reported positive results.

Improvement for certain medical conditions

There are so many other conditions that saunas have been known to help treat.

The following medical conditions have shown improvement with the addition of exercise and regular sauna exposure:

  • Lyme disease
  • Sinus infection
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Tinnitus
  • Neurocognitive diseases
  • Pulmonary diseases
  • Asthma

While the sauna can be helpful, it’s still always important to speak with a trained physician before attempting to self-diagnose. 

Cardiovascular strength

Aiming to increase cardiovascular strength is a common objective for many athletes, especially those that require endurance.

Saunas improve cardiovascular capabilities by stimulating mitochondrial activity and raising RBC count, which helps to carry more nutrients to cells. A 2021 study discovered that intermittent sauna use after exercising results in an increased VO2max by about 8% and increased time to exhaustion by about 12%.

Heat therapy also dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to reach the heart more efficiently for heart rate stabilization during a workout.

Better skin appearance

As we age, our skin loses elasticity. Saunas not only aid in improving the appearance of our skin but working out does as well (surprisingly enough).

Better skin health is a by-product of sauna exposure, as it helps detoxify pores, produce collagen, skin cell turnover, and skincare absorption. Also, with the addition of working out, saunas can reduce the appearance of cellulite.

The reason collagen production is important is that a 2014 study showed that increasing our body’s collagen results in a 15% decrease in wrinkles after 60 days. Furthermore, study participants saw roughly a 32% improvement in photoaging, and about 40% had more moisturized skin.

Toxin removal

Toxins, toxins, toxins: they’re responsible for the majority of common illnesses today.

Sweating induced by a workout and sauna session helps to detoxify our bodies of harmful substances like bisphenol-A and hormone-disrupting chemicals. It also takes some of the pressure off of the liver and kidneys by removing toxins through the eccrine sweat glands.

Last but not least, it also helps our muscles release lactic acid buildup that results from exercising. 

Potential negatives to using the sauna after a workout

We touched on this briefly above, but in addition to the advantages, there are some potential negatives associated with using the sauna after a workout. 

Here are some of the main potential risks associated with using the sauna after a workout:

  • Dehydration
  • Overexertion
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

It’s important to hydrate both before and after using the sauna, as well as while exercising, to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated. Sweating during a strenuous workout, paired with sweating in the sauna thereafter, poses a heightened risk for dehydration.

Moreover, there’s a chance you can overexert yourself. When you pair an intense workout with extensive time in the sauna, you run the risk of overexertion. This can be dangerous to your heart and cause cramping in your muscles.

Lastly, if you don’t eat or drink enough prior to sauna exposure and exercise, you could become nauseous and faint. This is especially dangerous if you’re standing in the sauna. 

To prevent these negative situations from happening, be sure to sauna responsibly! If you have a medical condition that may make coupling the gym with a sauna session dangerous, speak with your doctor first. 

How to use a sauna after a workout

There are some things to consider when deciding to use the sauna post-workout.

Here are some important tips and etiquette practices for sauna bathing after exercising:

  • Hydrate 
  • Eat a balanced diet 
  • Limit your workout
  • Take a break
  • Reduce your sauna session time
  • Wipe/rinse off 
  • Use a towel

Hydrate

It’s essential to drink water throughout the day, especially when you expect to be sweating more than normal.

Hydrate throughout the day, during your workout, and before and after the sauna. 

Eat a balanced diet

Eating properly will help you perform better during a workout and limit the chances of nausea and fainting. 

Physicians recommend eating a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein 1-3 hours before your workout. Afterward, refuel with protein to help build muscle.

Check out this article for the best things to eat before a sauna!

Limit your workout

You don’t want to push yourself too far during a workout if you intend on spending some time in the sauna after.

It’s best to exercise for 45 minutes or less when pairing a workout with the sauna.

Take a break

Because your heart rate is elevated during a workout and you typically sweat a lot, it might be beneficial to take a break in between fitness and the sauna.

Sitting down and hydrating for 10 minutes will allow your body to cool off and reset before sauna exposure. This will prevent overexertion and dehydration.

Reduce your sauna session time

Like limiting your workout, you don’t want to overextend yourself in the sauna either.

To limit health risks, spend a maximum of 10 minutes inside the sauna.

Wipe/rinse off

Most people sweat quite a bit during their workout. This sweating is often accompanied by unpleasant smells.

It’s proper etiquette to rinse off prior to stepping into the sauna. Heat exacerbates any existing smells, so it’s best to wipe or wash after exercising. 

This will help make sure the sauna is an enjoyable space for all!

Use a towel

Occasionally, in gender-specific saunas, it’s okay to go au naturel.

Gym saunas are generally made for both men and women to go inside together, so if you want to get out of your gym clothes, you’ll need a towel. Even if you don’t choose to wrap one around your body, sitting on a towel is a great way to prevent the spread of germs.

Overall, there are numerous benefits associated with using the sauna after a workout. Whether you want to extend calorie burning or simply build cardiovascular strength, sauna bathing post-exercise can be advantageous.

To reduce the risk of dehydration, be sure to drink enough water!