Sauna Before or After Swimming – Which is Best for Performance?

Pairing swimming with a session in a sauna is a great way to combine the benefits of exercise with the health benefits of a sauna. When looking at how to maximize the benefits of using both, the question is whether you should go swimming first or use the sauna first – which is best for your performance?

Using the sauna after an intense swim can help promote muscle repair, increase blood flow, and prevent soreness. However, visiting the sauna before the pool can act as a warm-up and help loosen tight muscles before exercise, helping prevent potential cramps. Starting with a sauna session can be preferable for those with an existing heart condition.

Read on to find out when it might be most beneficial for you to go into the sauna, before or after you swim. 

Is it better to use a sauna before or after swimming?

Swimming is a great way to get exercise and will help burn a lot of calories. When pairing it with going into the sauna, there are many benefits that can be reaped. But is it better to go before or after swimming?

Pairing a sauna visit with a great low-impact exercise like swimming is a great way to promote muscle repair, increase blood flow, and help with any joint or muscle pain. It may also help improve your recovery time after a workout.

Many people find they prefer the post-workout sauna session. They find that it helps increase their performance over time due to the increased blood volume that helps build strength and power, and see it as a great way to wind down after an invigorating swim. 

However, if you have any heart conditions it might actually be better to start off in the sauna before going for a swim. Going into the sauna first can act as a small warm-up and can help increase blood flow, and warm up your muscles, making your swim more productive. Be sure to talk to your doctor before using the sauna to make sure it is safe. 

Whichever way you choose, be sure to keep an eye on how long you are in the sauna, with most experts recommending you stay in no more than 30 minutes after swimming and no more than 5 minutes beforehand and warn users to watch out for signs of dehydration.

The average person will lose a pint of sweat during their visit to the sauna and should drink plenty of water in between using the pool and the sauna as well as take a 10-minute break in between. Listen to your body and leave the sauna immediately if you start to feel light-headed, nauseated, or dizzy. 

Using a sauna before you go swimming

There are benefits to using a sauna before swimming, especially for those who have a heart condition since it increases blood flow.

One of the biggest pros to using the sauna beforehand is that it will help loosen your muscles before you start exercising.

It also serves as a sort of warm-up, getting your blood flowing as well as helping alleviate joint pain. If you decide to use it before you swim, be sure to be hydrated before you go in and take the time to properly hydrate after. 

If you have any medical conditions be sure to consult your doctor before adding the sauna to your regular exercise regimen. Be sure to take a 10-15 minute break between using the sauna and going into the pool to help your body cool down so as not to overheat or dehydrate. 

Pros

Advantages to choosing to visit the sauna before swimming include:

  • Passive warm-up – The sauna is a great way to warm up your body before jumping into the pool for exercise since it gets your heart pumping and expands the blood vessels, helping increase blood flow. Doing this may also lead to better performance and lessen the risk of major injury.
  • Muscle relaxation – The sauna helps loosen muscles which is extremely helpful in preventing muscle cramps and other injuries while swimming. Having muscles that are already partly warmed up can also help decrease the amount of time you spend on warming up and also help enhance your swimming performance over time.
  • Joint pain relief – Many people with joint pain choose swimming as their main form of exercise because it is low impact. If you use the sauna beforehand, it can help ease existing pain, helping you to work those joints and increase your range of motion while swimming. 

Cons

While there are several major advantages to taking your sauna session before going swimming, there are also a couple of reasons it may not work for you:

  • Energy drain – Sitting the sauna is relaxing and you may find yourself ready for a nap – not a serious exercise session. If you find yourself overly tired after the sauna then it may be better to start with swimming then switch to the sauna. 
  • Dehydration – Since the heat from the sauna causes you to sweat, it is easy to become dehydrating quickly. In order to prevent this, be sure to take a 10-15 minute break in between as well as drink plenty of water both before and after you exit both the pool and the sauna. If you find yourself starting to get lightheaded, dizzy or nauseated, exit the sauna immediately and get medical care if needed. 

Using a sauna after you go swimming

Using the sauna before swimming is preferred by many, especially those without any underlying conditions, but lots of people prefer to do it the other way around.

When using the sauna after swimming, be sure to wait about 10-15 minutes after getting out of the pool before entering a sauna and use that time to hydrate since both exercising and going into the sauna can lead to dehydration. 

Overall the sauna is a great place to relieve muscle tension after a good swim. The heat also helps with post-workout recovery because it increases blood flow, which in turn brings nutrients needed for muscle repair or growth. 

Pros

Some of the advantages to choosing to go for a swim before your sauna session include:

  • Muscle recovery – Your body produces lactic acid and other metabolites as a by-product when working out, which then builds up in the muscles. Too much lactic acid leads to stiff and sore muscles, but the heat from the sauna will help relax your muscles, taking away waste and delivering oxygen to your muscles.  
  • Increased blood flow – Increased blood flow can also help reduce tensions in your body, allowing you to relax after your workout, as well as help ease the aches and pain in your joints. 

Cons

Choosing to visit the sauna before swimming is popular not only because of the particular advantages of that order but also because of the disadvantages of swimming first:

  • Overexertion – You run the risk of overexerting yourself by swimming before going into the sauna. The sauna will keep your heart rate up, as well as cause you to sweat so it’s important to make sure you do not stay in the sauna beyond the recommended 20 minutes. You should also listen to your body and get out of the sauna if you start to feel lightheaded, nauseated or suddenly have a headache.
  • Dehydration – Both visiting the sauna and swimming can lead to becoming dehydrated in a surprisingly short time. The most important thing is to cool down in between and to drink plenty of water both before and after going into the sauna to ensure you do not get dehydrated. If you start to notice signs of dehydration such as muscle cramps, dry mouth and headaches you should drink water and get medical attention if necessary.

What kind of sauna should you pair with swimming?

With the types of sauna available, is there one that is better to visit when you go swimming?

While all three types of sauna help promote muscle recovery and are beneficial when paired with swimming for both exercise or relaxation, they each provide other specific benefits:

  • Traditional sauna – The higher temperature and steam provides a wide range of benefits, from improved circulation, detoxified skin, and better sleep.
  • Infrared sauna – The lower temperature can reduce the chances of dehydration, and the infrared rays promote muscle recovery.
  • Steam room – Lower temperatures paired with higher humidity helps improve circulation and can lead to improved mobility and range of motion.

Traditional sauna and swimming

The traditional sauna uses heat and water to create steam, has a higher humidity rate than the infrared sauna, and operates at a higher temperature than other saunas.

Visiting a traditional sauna either before or after swimming will help relax your muscles, and can help relieve potential joint pain. Because the extreme can potentially lead to exhaustion and dehydration, it is better to visit a traditional sauna as a way of relaxing after your laps.

Choosing a traditional sauna means you can also reap other added benefits such as opening pores and promoting better sleep. 

Infrared sauna and swimming

An infrared sauna operates at a lower temperature with no humidity than both the traditional sauna and the steam room. It uses heat and light waves to heat the room.

It has a slight advantage when paired with swimming over the other two since a study recently found that its heat penetrates the neuromuscular system, which promotes recovery in the body, meaning it is better to choose to visit the infrared sauna after swimming.

Steam room and swimming

The steam room is similar to the traditional sauna but operates at a lower temperature but with higher humidity.

The increased humidity significantly improves circulation compared to the other two types of sauna. If you have joint pain using a steam room before you swim can also help with your mobility and range of motion.

Whichever sauna you choose or have access to, each one is wonderfully suited to using it before a swim as well as those wanting to use it afterward. If you have the choice, consider what benefits you are looking to help make the decision!

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