We all know the benefits of a sauna, its detoxing aspects of it through sweating. Sweat or perspiration is one of the main ways the body rids itself of toxins, and in addition to exercising getting that really hot effect of a sauna can help you sweat more.
The relaxing properties of the heat you know, but what you didn’t know unless you’ve been reading up on this is that the sauna can be used to improve your recovery and thus help with building muscle!
Yeah, sitting in the sauna after some of your workouts can help you with building muscle (if you are doing the actual proper training and lifting).
What some studies have found is that the near extreme high temperatures of most saunas can help increase core temperature and thus increase the flow of blood, which increases circulation of the tissues that helps move the “junk” or stagnant blood and toxins out of the body.
Now some background for you all. Human Growth Hormone (hGH) a term you’ve all likely heard about is a human hormone responsible for causing muscle growth in adults. That’s why you’ve heard of it and why people are always trying to find ways to get more of it into their system. Now for some time Scandinavian research studies have shown that certain exercises can lead to a greater circulation of hGH in the body. The Scandinavians researches also found in the 1970s that use of a sauna had some relationship to increase levels of hGH in humans.
Researchers believe that the way to get the hGH levels up and to the muscles is exposing the body to a specific amount of high heat related stress. The heat from a sauna can help trigger the response from the body to boost the hGH and also get the hormones through the blood stream to get those to the various tissues.
Now the studies vary on how often and for how long you can and should use the sauna. Some have said 30 minutes is the ideal and to be used a few times a week as part of the post workout. The problem is if you use this method daily, your body has the ability adapt very quickly to the exposure of the high levels of the head and that will lead to a dip in the hGH levels.
The most common recommendation we’ve seen range from 2-3 times max a week, for about 30 minutes each session, but within a 30 minutes to an hour following the intensive work session. You need to be hydrated when getting into the sauna any time you do it. It is also suggested that you will have a greater increase in the hGH levels if you sit through a 30 minute session straight vs breaks. Which again means you better have water and keep hydrated. The recommendation we found is eight (8) ounces of water before your sauna session. You should also check with your primary care physician before using the sauna.
According to one article we read (we’ll have list of all the sources at the end of this) found that most the studies don’t have a specific for temperature and time, but that the ranges given work best if the sauna is at about 176 degrees Fahrenheit, and to have the humidity between 5-20%. So again make sure you have water, hydrate and are in good health before getting into a sauna.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD (who has appeared on several Joe Rogan Podcasts, and also has her own Found My Fitness podcast) said what helps performance is the short periods for where people boots their internal temperature that promotes the healthy response and the hormone production we are seeking (hGH).
Dr. Patrick says the use of the sauna can improve performance including endurance. We improve endurance by pushing our body to the limits and strain, and over time the body adapts. She says in her article Hyperthermic Conditioning Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis, “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use induces adaptations that reduce later strain on your primary aerobic activity”. So what does that mean? Well the by exposing your body to those high core temperatures now, you allow your body to become use to and to easily adapt to future incidents where your body will experience an increase in its core temperature from physical activities (long runs, intensive training or games).
Dr. Patrick says the exposure from the sauna can help with adaption to heat and performance in the following ways:
Improve cardiovascular function (and lower heart rate). Basic cardio people.
Lower core body temperature during the physical activity (which helps you last longer for one).
Higher sweat rate and thus improving the body’s ability to control the core and body temperature, which is key as you don’t want get as tired and last longer.
Increase blood flow to the rest of the tissues (as already discussed earlier). Also remember an important factor for recovery and healing of injuries is to move the stagnant blood full of toxins and to have fresh blood with nutrients come to the area (which we discussed in an earlier article on this site called Hold The Ice). Now what do you think happens with recovery to the body, when you get the blood moving and fresh blood to the rest of muscles?
Increase in red blood cells (you need this for the recovery and to get oxygen to the muscles). Not only does red blood cells bring oxygen to your muscles, but they also bring other nutrients to the muscles like glucose and ideally fatty acids. The more your red blood cells can provide your body with things like fatty acids, oxygen, and other hormones the less your body has to rely on glycogen. Glycogen (are the carbs (which are really sugars) your body uses as fuels). If your have to rely on these glycogen stores (because you aren’t fat adapted) and your body uses them up, you will stop performing.
Dr. Patrick compares running out of glycogen to the runners hitting a wall in a marathon. She says in her article that training using the heat (like sauna) has helped people reduce their dependence on muscle glycogen by 40-50%. What does that mean? Well it means simply you won’t run out of gas as fast. Think if you can make your energy or fuel last 40 % longer. What does that mean for you in a rugby game?
Dr. Patrick and a study from the University of Wisconsin also land on the healthy suggested range of 30 minute sauna sessions two-three times a week as idea and for having statistically showing an improvement in endurance and benefits.
We aren’t smart enough to try and explain this part of the muscle growth from use of the sauna so we are going to directly quote Dr. Patrick here (we’ll have link to her full article so you can read it yourself if you’d like). Dr. Patrick says “Here is how muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) works: Muscle hypertrophy (growth) involves both the increase in the size of muscle cells, and perhaps unsurprisingly, an accompanying increase in strength. Skeletal muscle cells do contain stem cells that are able to increase the number of muscles by hypertrophy instead generally involved an increase in size then number”.
Patrick explains that at any given time our muscles are either using the proteins to grow or its loosing proteins which means it is not growing. We don’t want “protein degradation” to occur that’s bad. And it can happen when muscles in uses or not in use. Dr. Patrick says the use of heat from the sauna really helps as “heat acclimation reduces the amount of protein degradation”. The use of the heat acclimation will actively increase the muscle growth by slowing down the protein degradation.
The exposure of the body to high heats in various intervals can help trigger the body to also (as noted earlier) release hGH almost immediately after the heat session. The release of hGH is important for muscle growth. Tie that in with everything else and you will see that a few 30 minute sauna sessions a week after a legitimate strenuous workout can help with both performance and muscle growth almost .
You want more details or to learn more about the use of sauna for performance or use of the heat to grow muscles check out the reference at the end (Including Dr. Patricks’ article. We have included a link her to a video Dr. Patrick did on this subject (which is about 13 min. It’s informative but a bit scientific). We have tired to give you want you’ll need to use this technique in your own performance.
You may use a traditional steam sauna, or an infrared sauna, both have the capability to generate the head you’ll need to increase your core temperature and cause the release of hGH, and improve blood flow. The infrared saunas tend to be smaller and fit one to two persons at a time, but they are just as effective.
Now here is a big disclaimer. We are not doctors, if you have any heath issues consult with your doctor. If you have any questions, consult with a healthcare professional and always err on the side of caution.
Patrick, Rhonda P. PhD. Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Growth and Neurogenesis. www.foundmyfitness.com April, 2014.