From relieving pain to improving overall fitness levels, there are plenty of reasons why a sauna makes a great addition to any workout routine. However, do saunas help build muscle?
Saunas help speed up muscle recovery, allowing you to work out more frequently and build muscle. Using a sauna post-workout twice a week, for 20 minutes at a time, has been shown to increase hGH by about 150%, reduce insulin levels by 30%, and lower cortisol levels by 25%. These benefits will lead to a gradual increase in muscle mass.
Follow along to discover if saunas help you build muscle, if using one post lifting weights is a good idea, and tips on how to use the sauna for maximum strength gains!
Can saunas help build muscle?
Using saunas alone won’t increase your muscle percentage; however, correctly coupling sauna use with your workout regimen can dramatically improve results.
Saunas help build muscle by speeding up muscle recovery, elevating growth hormone production, lowering your cortisol levels, and improving cardiovascular health. In one study, after two 20-minute sauna sessions per week, males exhibited a 100% increase in growth hormone and prolactin. Females showed a 400% increase in prolactin.
Additionally, intermittent sauna use post-workout can improve the average person’s running speed by 4%.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
Speeding Up Muscle Recovery
One way saunas help build muscle is by speeding up your body’s natural muscle recovery.
Saunas speed along this process by increasing blood flow to the damaged areas, giving your muscles access to more nutrients. An animal study showed that prolonged heat exposure reduces insulin levels by about 30% and induces the production of heat shock proteins, which inhibit inflammation and protect your cells against injuries and stress.
Essentially, when you lift weights, your body’s muscle fibers tear. These tiny tears cause inflammation and pain, which is why you feel sore after a workout. Afterward, your muscles need growth hormones to rebuild bigger and stronger.
This process is called muscle-protein synthesis and usually takes 24-48 hours; however, if paired with a sauna session can be slightly quicker. Over time, the more heat shock proteins that are produced, the stronger your cells will become and the faster your muscles will recover. As soon as they recover, you can begin working them again to gain muscle mass.
Lastly, insulin controls your blood sugar levels, so an increased sensitivity to it will allow your cells to use blood glucose more efficiently. This process helps you lose weight by using calories for energy instead of storing them as fat.
Elevating Growth Hormone Production
Having enough growth hormones is a vital part of building muscle mass.
Saunas elevate growth hormone production by subjecting your body to heat-induced stress. This stress signals your pituitary gland to release hormones (specifically GH and prolactin) from the anterior pituitary gland, which enhance muscle strength and development and speed up fat loss.
It is important to note that hGH production significantly decreases in people aged 50 or greater. The sauna was not found to have any significant impact on the growth hormone production of this age group.
Lowering Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a pivotal component of our body’s response to stress. It also helps to regulate our metabolism and immune responses. If cortisol is imbalanced, our overall health will suffer.
Infrared saunas, in particular, help lower cortisol levels by relaxing the body’s muscles and increasing white blood cell counts. Research has shown that while using the sauna, cortisol levels increase, and immediately following sauna use, cortisol levels drop by about 25%.
When cortisol levels are heightened, we can experience a breakdown of our immune system, trouble sleeping, weight gain, memory loss/cognitive decline, depression, and digestive tract issues.
Improving Cardiovascular Health
Following regular use, saunas can drastically increase a person’s cardiovascular capability.
Saunas improve cardiovascular health by increasing mitochondrial activity and RBC count, which help carry more oxygen and nutrients to cells. A 2021 study found that intermittent sauna use after exercising results in an increased VO2max by about 8% and increased time to exhaustion by about 12%.
This increase in blood flow can also improve heart health because it decreases a person’s resting heart rate, blood pressure, and plasma viscosity. Sweating in the sauna also opens up pores so toxins from within your skin can be released.
Is the sauna good after lifting weights?
When you use the sauna in your fitness regimen will determine its overall effectiveness.
It is best to use the sauna AFTER lifting weights because your body has already started the natural rebuilding process. Additionally, the sauna increases your immediate stress levels and relaxes your muscles, so working out after could cause injury.
Post lifting weights, your muscles will be warm and responsive. The increased oxygen-rich blood flood and growth hormone release will be the most beneficial to your muscle recovery process after working out.
Keep in mind that saunas are beneficial in moderation but can become detrimental if overused.
Is the sauna as good as exercise?
The sauna makes you sweat as much, if not more, than your afternoon run. This begs the question- is the sauna as good as exercise?
While the sauna is a great way to rid your body of toxins, lower your resting heart rate, and speed up muscle recovery- it’s not the same as a workout. You can’t expect to grow your biceps or increase endurance without working your muscles.
The most important takeaway is that you must pair exercise with sauna use to reap the best results. Neither can be used as a substitute for the other and when used harmoniously, both generate the most optimal outcomes for your physical health.
Do saunas help you get lean?
If you weigh yourself before and after using the sauna, you most certainly will notice a difference in the number on the scale.
That being said, weight loss observed directly after sauna use is most likely water weight. Saunas help you get lean by decreasing cortisol levels and improving muscle definition. By increasing blood flow and regulating insulin sensitivity, saunas raise your metabolism and help rid your body of excess fat cells.
So while you won’t see immediate results, over time, using the sauna 2-3x a week will positively impact weight loss and body composition.
How to use the sauna to help build more muscle
When you use the sauna, what type you use, at what temperature, and how long you use it for will all dictate its effectiveness for building muscle. Let’s take a look at how to maximize a sauna’s benefits.
The best ways to use a sauna for muscle building are:
- To opt for infrared
- After a workout
- On an intermittent schedule
- At the highest temperature
- With light stretching
All of these practices will help to maximize muscle recovery and increase gradual growth.
Opt for Infrared
These saunas are the most effective because of how they heat our bodies.
Infrared saunas heat the core of our body first, then the air around us. So, although they are only about 140 °F, compared to the 177 °F heat of a traditional sauna, the infrared heating panels work more quickly. As a result, spending 20 minutes inside an infrared sauna will be most effective for muscle building.
If you don’t have access to an infrared sauna, steam saunas and traditional saunas will still work well! Though given a choice, take infrared saunas every time.
After a Workout
Like I mentioned above, because of the impact sauna use has on your muscles, hormones, and cardiovascular systems- it’s best to use them post-workout.
Using a sauna after your workout will increase oxygenated blood flow to your muscles, help release metabolic waste and bring in much-needed nutrients. Additionally, growth hormones will spike about 150% following a sauna session.
After consistent use, your cardiovascular strength will improve so that you can work out harder and longer. Lower cortisol levels will also aid in your body effectively burning fat, and you will see results more quickly.
All of these variables are essential in rebuilding muscle mass efficiently so that you can hit the gym more often.
On an Intermittent Schedule
How often you hit the sauna will have an impact on how effectively you’re able to build muscle. That being said- you never want to overdo it.
Multiple studies have shown that the perfect recipe for sauna use to maximize muscle growth is after your workout, two times per week in 20-minute sessions.
On one hand, using the sauna too frequently will cause your body to adjust and result in lower testosterone levels and other anabolic hormones. So while you may see results at first, you’ll soon experience a decrease in testosterone levels and a decline in muscle growth.
Conversely, not going to the sauna enough will rob your body of its added benefits.
By using this researched formula, you will speed up muscle recovery and improve your body’s aerobic function over time.
At the Highest Temperature
As discussed in a previous section, the higher the temperature during controlled hyperthermic exposure, the greater our body’s stress response and the more heat shock proteins are produced.
It is recommended to use a sauna at the highest temperature, meaning the highest temperature of your body’s core, for maximum muscle building. Infrared saunas raise core body temperature by about 0.7 °F to an average of 99.86 °F.
Because your body’s core temperature is being raised first, you will experience the effects more quickly than in a steam or traditional sauna, even though the air temperature is lower.
With Light Stretching
How can you increase muscle recovery in the sauna? The answer: with light stretching.
Light stretching is a great practice (if there is enough space) for decreasing next-day soreness. Once your muscles are warm, try hamstring and tricep stretching or neck rolls to help speed up the recovery process. Each position should be held for 30 seconds.
It’s also essential to take into account intensity. While stretching is beneficial for your body, you don’t want to push your body too far- especially when the goal is to recover quickly!
It’s no secret that a sauna is one of the best ways to detox, relax, and feel rejuvenated.
In addition to these benefits, research has shown that using a sauna post-workout on an intermittent schedule can significantly improve muscle mass.
So when asked, ‘Do saunas help build muscle?’- the answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’
The next time you work out, consider hopping in an infrared sauna after completing your routine- just make sure not to overdo it!