Sauna For Runners: What Are The Performance Advantages?

You may have heard that a sauna is beneficial for runners and athletes in general. However, if you haven’t tried it before, some of the benefits may seem a little too good to be true.

Can a simple sauna session really have a noticeable effect on your running performance? What are the long-term pros and cons of sauna for runners?

Well, firstly: is a sauna actually good for runners? In most cases – yes!

Saunas help to improve your heat tolerance and lung capabilities. Saunas also help stretch your muscles and detoxify your body, helping to reduce post-workout stiffness. Because saunas are relaxing, many runners prefer to sit in a sauna after running to improve their blood circulation and recovery.

While sitting in the sauna has many advantages, you must take certain precautions to ensure you get the most benefit from a sauna bath. We’ll discuss why a sauna bath benefits runners and how to use a sauna to improve your running performance. 

What Are The Benefits Of A Sauna For Runners?

Is the sauna for runners a good idea?
Is a sauna good for running performance?

The general benefits of a sauna are widely appreciated, which is why you find them in so many spas and luxury gyms. If it’s good for a day of detoxification, it’s probably good for your everyday health – right?

A sauna session improves your blood circulation, helps to kill germs that cause colds and flu, and reduces the mucus buildup in your airway. However, a sauna also has other, more specific benefits for runners.

Some benefits are connected to running performance and speed, while others are linked to recovery and cardiovascular health. Here are our top benefits of saunas for runners:

1. Saunas Help Improve Blood Circulation

A sauna’s heat and humidity help open your blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to your muscles. This increased blood flow helps your muscles recover better after running. It also removes lactic acid from your muscles. 

By using the sauna regularly, your blood vessels open bigger. As a result, they can deliver more oxygen-rich red blood cells to your muscles while running. Open blood vessels can also help to remove toxins, such as lactic acid, from your muscles, which reduces post-workout soreness.

If you want to run more often, or recover from strains faster, a well-timed visit to the sauna can provide a welcome recovery boost.

2. Saunas Improve Your Lung Capacity

In addition to improving blood circulation to your muscles, a sauna bath also improves the blood circulation to your lungs. This helps you breathe more effectively and increases the oxygen that reaches your muscles and organs.

A sauna bath helps to decongest your lungs and airway, removing any mucus buildup and germs from your airway. This also helps you breathe easily and result in better quality oxygen reaching your lungs and organs.

There’s no doubt that better quality breathing will result in a performance gain when running, although the size of this performance gain will depend on how badly your breathing was suffering in the first place.

3. Saunas Help You Acclimate To Heat

Preparing for a summer race? Looking to hit the trails in a foreign sunnier climate?

As a sauna is set to a higher temperature and humidity than your natural environment, a sauna bath can help your body acclimate to these conditions. This will help you adjust to a warmer running environment, improving your running performance.

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to have to worry about acclimatising to hotter weather (outside of the summer months), but it is particularly important to do so if you are planning to race overseas in hotter weather.

Doing a weekly sauna bath will help your body and mind adjust to the higher temperatures and humidity. Then you won’t have as much trouble adjusting, and your running performance won’t be so severely affected.

Runner sweaty from sauna

4. Saunas Help With Weight Loss (But Only Water Weight!)

Because saunas are set to a higher temperature and humidity, you will undoubtedly sweat while taking a sauna bath. It’s one of the things we love most about them! This sweating will cause you to lose weight, but it’s important to note that this is only water weight, which will return rapidly.

At the same time, sweating helps to remove toxins from the body that can cause bloating and weight gain. This is the main advantage that saunas offer for weight management.

Any immediately weight loss you see from the sauna is likely to result from loss of fluids through sweating. Be sure to hydrate effectively both before and after your visit.

From a running perspective, there is no advantage to losing so much water weight immediately before a run. If anything, it is likely to have a major negative impact on your performance.

However, the wider advantage of shedding toxins may be useful over the longer term.

5. Saunas Help Your Body Produce Muscle Growth Hormones

When taking a sauna bath, your blood plasma volume increases, causing blood sugar and cortisol levels to decrease. As a result, your testosterone levels, responsible for muscle growth and strength, increase. Therefore, sauna bathing can help to increase your testosterone levels.

It doesn’t take a lot of connecting the dots to see why increased testosterone levels would result in a major performance gain.

Some studies suggest that a sauna bath can increase your HGH (human growth hormone) levels by as much as 150%. As stronger muscles lead to stronger running and increased endurance, a sauna bath is a good way to kickstart the process and work towards that extra strength to crush your personal best.

6. Saunas Help Loosen Muscles

Stretching helps to loosen your muscles and prevent injury. However, a sauna bath also stretches and loosens your muscles through heat treatment. By taking a regular sauna bath, your muscles gradually loosen, and your chances of sustaining a running injury are reduced. 

Sauna baths also remove toxins from your muscles, which helps prevent muscle stiffness and fatigue. In addition, because saunas are a form of heat treatment, they can help speed up the healing process if you have an injury.

When we talk about the top advantages of using a sauna for runners, we keep returning to the two most consistent benefits: recovery and rehabilitation

If you take your running seriously, you already know that looking after your body when you’re not running is just as important as the miles spent pounding the pavement.

7. Saunas Boost Your Immune System

Sauna baths can help to boost your immune system in various ways. First, because saunas are set to higher temperatures, they kill any cold and flu-causing germs. They also improve your lung capacity, which helps your body fight off any infections or diseases. 

It’s suggested that because saunas influence your lung capacity and endurance, you can fight infections and diseases better. An improved immune system also helps you recover faster after working out and prevents you from getting sick. 

Most of us have seen first-hand how a sickness bug can derail those carefully laid training plans. Priming your immune system and fighting off illness before it arrives is a cheat code for elite runners.

8. Saunas Help To Lower Your Heartrate

Because sauna baths improve your blood circulation, they also help to lower your heart rate. In many cases, having a lower heart rate leads to better running performance. Although your heart rate temporarily increases while you are in a sauna because of the higher temperature and humidity, a sauna helps lower your heart rate. over time.

Having a lower heart rate means pushing yourself harder when running without limiting your blood flow and the oxygen output to your muscles and organs. Similarly, sauna baths help increase your oxygen supply and relax your muscles, which can likely lead to a lower heart rate. 

9. Saunas Improve Your Muscle Endurance

Finally, sauna baths are great for improving your muscle endurance — a critical factor for any distance runner. The increased blood flow to your muscles and better oxygen supply has a direct impact on your muscle endurance.

Increased blood flow removes toxins from your muscles so they can endure much longer without fatigue. 

The increased HGH and testosterone that reach your muscles also improve muscle endurance and strength. 

As you can see, runners get many advantages from sauna baths. However, you may still wonder how these advantages improve running performance and speed. 

How Does A Sauna Help With Running Performance?

A sauna bath can increase your running performance by helping you acclimate to higher temperatures, improving your lung capacity, and improving your blood circulation. These factors work together to improve your muscle endurance and running speed. The additional advantage of developing better lung capacity and blood flow actively increases your running performance. 

Because a sauna bath helps lower your heart rate and removes toxins from your muscles, your body will recover faster after an event.

You can return to training sooner, which also helps improve your running performance whilst mitigating the risk of runner’s burnout.

There is evidence to suggest that a sauna bath also helps you lose weight and improves your cardiovascular endurance. While a sauna bath cannot replace your cardio, it is a useful addition to your cardio routine and will improve your ability to recover between runs.

However, you must exercise caution when taking a sauna bath as dehydration and low blood pressure are common factors that can reverse any performance gain you expected to see.

How To Use A Sauna For Increased Running Performance

Most experts recommend taking a sauna bath once or twice a week while training for ten to fifteen minutes. In addition, you can choose to take a sauna bath after an event (or a particularly tough workout) to relax your muscles, remove toxins, and improve your recovery. 

It is possible to take a sauna bath before or after working out. However, taking a sauna bath before working out may lead to dehydration and cause your muscles to become too relaxed. Having overly stretched muscles can negatively influence your posture, which can lead to injuries. 

From our experience, overly relaxed muscles before a strenuous run is a fast-track ticket to sprains, strains and tears. It’s okay to use the sauna before a run, but best to make it an easy run to err on the safe side.

Most athletes prefer taking a sauna after working out.

You get the best recovery benefits from the sauna bath, and your muscles will feel relaxed after an intense workout. Ensure you drink enough fluids and avoid “outstaying your body’s welcome” in a sauna bath for more than twenty minutes, as this may cause you to become overly dehydrated. 

If you can’t get access to a sauna, consider an infrared sauna blanket instead. They provide similar benefits, albeit without the same relaxation experience.

Final Thoughts on Saunas For Runners

The sauna is a good option for runners because it can improve your blood circulation, lung capacity, and muscle endurance. A sauna bath can also help your muscle recovery after an event, improving your training and overall performance. 

We recommend taking a sauna bath twice a week for a maximum of twenty minutes each time to see improvements in your running performance. Just remember to stay hydrated before and after!

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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