The steam room and sauna are both excellent ways to unwind from a high-intensity workout, but is there a difference in how they affect our bodies? We all might have a preference, but which one is better than the other?
For most people, the sauna will carry the most post-workout benefits, because it helps more with muscle recovery due to the high heat. However, steam rooms can be equally beneficial if you have a respiratory condition, such as bronchitis, that could benefit from steam inhalation.
Both steam rooms and saunas have a lot of perks, and a lot of them are the same. But depending on your unique needs, there may also be some drawbacks or additional benefits to each. Read on to find out which one is best for you!
Is it better to use a sauna or a steam room after a workout?
Both the steam room and the sauna have their benefits post-workout. The benefits are similar – they both help you jumpstart your recovery from your workout, for different reasons. They both have some drawbacks as well, though.
But does one have more benefits or drawbacks than the other?
As a matter of fact, there is a difference in the level of risks and benefits between the two. This has to do with the difference in temperature and humidity, which we will cover more in-depth in the next few sections.
Because the sauna has a higher temperature but lower relative humidity, it’s going to bring the most benefit to your body with the least amount of risk after a workout. In short, you won’t sweat quite as much in the sauna (so less risk of dehydration and electrolyte loss), and your muscles will thank you in their recovery for the higher heat exposure.
Using a sauna after a workout is an excellent way to kickstart your recovery from your workout. Your body burns up oxygen during exercise, producing lactic acid and other metabolites as a byproduct, which causes your muscles to feel sore and stiff.
Heat exposure after a workout helps to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (Or DOMS, for short) by as much as 47%! So, not only are the benefits of a post-workout sauna session measurable – they’re pretty significant, too.
So, how does this work?
When your muscles are exposed to heat, they relax, and your blood vessels dilate in response to both the heat and relaxed muscles. Dilated blood vessels are more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients, as well as carrying away those soreness-inducing byproducts.
There is also measurable scientific data that using a regular, post-workout sauna can increase blood volume – by as much as 7.1 percent! This in turn enhances your future performance during exercise.
Is the sauna good after a workout?
Sitting in a sauna after exercise comes with many benefits. As long as you’re in good health, you will greatly benefit from using the sauna post-workout.
However, it’s always important to be sure that you listen to and care properly for your body. Just as you would with a workout, you don’t want to push yourself too far past the point of discomfort.
Benefits of the sauna after working out
Benefits of a post-workout sauna session include:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved circulation
- Reduced pain from muscle and joint conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia
- Helps older injuries heal and reduces pain
- Increased muscle strength and endurance
- Slight increase in calories burned and weight lost
Drawbacks of the sauna after working out
One of the few times it’s not recommended to sauna post-workout is if you have a heart condition or a similar medical condition that requires caution in allowing your heart rate to be elevated for too long. Because the heat exposure in a sauna prolongs your elevated heart rate, it’s best to use the sauna beforehand if you fall into this category.
There are a few other drawbacks as well, but they’re only an issue if you overdo it. One such drawback would be overheating. Heat exhaustion is a real risk during a workout alone, especially if you exercise in warm weather or don’t drink enough water.
So, by increasing your body temperature further in the sauna, there is a slight risk of overheating. In fact, skin temperatures as high as 104°F have been recorded! This isn’t a cause for alarm, but for caution.
This risk can be easily mitigated. If you drink plenty of cold water, wait at least 10 minutes to use the sauna post-exercise, take a shower with cool water, and leave the sauna if you feel too much discomfort, the risk is very low.
Why is the heat of a sauna so important for muscle recovery?
There are many studies that highlight the benefits of heat exposure for the muscles after exercise. These are just a few scientifically-proven benefits of a sauna’s heat:
- Reduces post-workout muscle damage from working out
- Reduces DOMS
- Accelerates weight loss by increasing blood volume, thereby improving future physical performance
- Accelerates weight loss by slightly increasing calories burned post exercise
- Helps with chronic pain from older muscle injuries and other conditions such as arthritis
- Accelerates removal of toxins and metabolic waste by dilating blood vessels
Is a steam room good after working out?
If you’re healthy and your electrolytes are well balanced, using a steam room isn’t going to hurt you. If you like the steam room more, then, by all means – use it! There are still benefits to the steam room. However, it’s not as good for you as a sauna and won’t bring as much benefit.
Benefits of a steam room after working out
Many of the same benefits of a sauna are also offered in a steam room, simply because your body responds in a similar way to high humidity with moderate heat as it does to the extreme temperatures of a sauna.
However, steam rooms do have a couple of benefits that a sauna simply can’t compete with. Inhaling steam can be very good for your respiratory system. If you’re suffering from bronchitis or another inflammatory respiratory condition, the steam room is going to be a great ally.
Steam also opens your pores, which has a cleansing effect. It improves the health and appearance of your skin by loosening dirt and debris.
Drawbacks of a steam room after working out
Because the steam room has higher relative humidity, you’re going to sweat a lot more. It’s good to sweat, however, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Sweating too much can deplete your body of electrolytes, which are essential for your body function.
Normally, a steam room won’t be a problem for most healthy people if you do it right. But, if we are weighing benefits and risks between the steam room and the sauna, the steam room is going to have a slightly higher risk due to the sweat you produce during a workout combined with the sweat from a steam room.
You might be wondering why sweating too much can be a problem. It shouldn’t be a big deal as long as you hydrate enough, right? The reason is, water isn’t the only thing you lose when you sweat.
Electrolytes are essential nutrients that play a big role in a myriad of bodily functions. If you lose too many of them at once, it can make you very sick and even cause seizures.
There are ways to avoid this. You can drink electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks such as Gatorade, and there are also supplements and drink additives that you can take to replenish these vital nutrients after a workout.
There is one unavoidable drawback to using the steam room over a sauna, however. Steam rooms simply don’t have as much heat! So, even though you can get the same benefits from a steam room as you would from a sauna, the effect won’t be quite as strong due to the lack of extreme heat.
How do the benefits compare?
|Lowered blood pressure||High||High|
|Reduced pain from muscle and joint conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia||Medium||Higher|
|Increased muscle strength and endurance||Medium||Higher|
|Slight increase in calories burned and weight lost||Medium||Medium|
|Improved Skin Health||High||Low|
How do the drawbacks compare?
|Risk of overheating||Low if protocol followed||Slightly Higher|
|Electrolyte loss||Slightly higher||Low if protocol followed|
|Cardiovascular Risk in certain populations||Higher than normal – always consult your doctor||Higher than normal – always consult your doctor|
|Dehydration||Low if protocol followed||Low if protocol followed|
How to use a sauna or steam room after a workout
- Give yourself at least 10 minutes for your body to cool down. This will help you avoid overheating.
- Take a nice, cool shower. The colder, the better – cold exposure to muscles post workout helps to reduce muscle damage.
- Time for the sauna! Be sure to bring two dry, clean towels. (One for sweat, the other to sit on) And sandals, if the sauna requires it.
- Don’t overdo it. Pay attention to the signs your body is giving you, and leave immediately if you feel discomfort. You shouldn’t spend more than 15-20 minutes at a time in a sauna.
- Take a nice, cool shower when you’re done!
Both the sauna and steam rooms are great ways to relax after you have finished your workout and can help your body recover. But if you’re looking for specific benefits from one or the other, be sure to weigh your options beforehand.
No matter which one you choose, do it with your health in mind and enjoy yourself!