A Sauna & Muscle Recovery

Young woman in sauna, portrait
woman in sauna (Image: Andrea Chu/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Getting sore muscles after a tough workout is not an uncommon experience for fitness enthusiasts. Gyms and fitness facilities sometimes offer saunas for members to enjoy after working out. Although scientific research hasn’t confirmed that sitting in a sauna contributes to faster muscle recovery, the dry, heated spaces can relax and rejuvenate you.

Muscle Recovery Process

Working out can create tiny tears in your muscle fibers, creating “microtrauma,” according to certified personal trainer Marc Perry on his Built Lean website. Acute muscle soreness takes place during or directly after a workout, while delayed onset muscle soreness can develop 24 to 72 hours after your workout. Soreness that lasts more than 72 hours could indicate muscle strain, which might involve a greater number of torn muscle fibers or damaged blood vessels. The recovery process takes place as your body’s muscle fibers mend themselves.

Claims Made By Sauna Advocates

According to The North American Sauna Society, unnamed research reveals saunas help relieve soreness because of endorphins that are produced while using them. Advocates claim that saunas help eliminate lactic acids and toxins released during workouts and help increase blood flow throughout the body so that muscles feel rejuvenated. Unbiased research should confirm these claims, however.

Your Body in the Sauna

It’s true that saunas increase your body’s temperature, pulse rate and metabolism, according to Columbia University. Temperatures in saunas can reach 185 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the skin's temperature to rise to 104 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. Blood vessels become more flexible and circulation increases. Some people might experience changes in blood pressure. However, scientific research doesn’t yet confirm that a sauna will facilitate more efficient or effective muscle recovery. There isn’t evidence to demonstrate that enjoying a sauna will impede the muscle recovery process, though. So, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience negative effects unless you don't take the necessary safety precautions when visiting the sauna.

Safe Sauna Use and Recovery

If you do use a sauna, limit your visits to 20 minutes or less. Drink two to four glasses of water after your sauna visit and avoid alcohol. Leave the sauna if you feel lightheaded or unwell. If you’re experiencing sore muscles during the recovery process, get enough rest and stay hydrated. Light exercise, for example, jogging or swimming, can increase circulation to your muscles. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines can help reduce pain, but they won’t speed up the recovery process. Similarly, topical gels can reduce pain but won’t affect the underlying muscle, says Marc Perry on Built Lean.

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