Using the Sauna Before or After a Workout—Which Is Best?

December 19, 2023

Saunas originated in Finland over 2,000 years ago. And today, it's estimated that there are more saunas in Finland than cars—with roughly 3 million saunas for a population of just 5.5 million people!

As a certified personal trainer and athlete who has spent a lot of time in saunas, I understand why Finns love them. Just a few minutes in their dry ~176-degree heat can leave you feeling clear-headed, detoxed, and loose.

But to get these benefits, it’s important to get the timing right: Should you hop in the sauna before or after a workout? I pored over the science, and in this article, I break down the answer. Let’s get into it.

What Are Saunas?

A sauna is a small, heated room that promotes sweating, relaxation, and well-being. Typically, saunas use dry heat or steam to raise the temperature to 158° to 212° Fahrenheit, creating an environment where your body can experience heat therapy. Sauna-induced sweating can help improve blood circulation, increase flexibility, promote muscle recovery, and maybe even promote weight loss.

Should I Use a Sauna Before or After a Workout?

Using a Sauna Before Your Workout

Using a sauna before your workout—even just for 5 minutes—can be a great way to prepare your body (and mind) for exercise. For beginners, limiting your sauna session to around 5 to 10 minutes is recommended. As you become more accustomed, extending the duration to 15 to 20 minutes can be suitable. (1).

If you work out first thing in the morning, a pre-workout sauna session can be a great way to help your body wake up before exercise. If you work out later in the day, it can help you put the day’s stressors or to-do list aside so you can really focus on your workout. But this doesn’t mean you can skip your warm-up routine, it's just a good starting point.  

Being in a sauna not only increases your body temperature but also your heart rate and blood flow. Your pulse can increase by 30%, allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute (2). This improved circulation assists the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which is crucial while you are working out.

Multiple studies show that regular sauna use improved cardiovascular function in both male and female athletes (3, 4). This typically means strengthening the heart muscle, optimizing its ability to pump blood, and ensuring that blood vessels are flexible and free from blockages. This improvement in your cardiovascular function can help you push your workouts a little harder or longer.

Recent research has also found that regular sauna use can significantly increase flexibility (5).

This enhancement in flexibility offers an array of advantages, including:

  • Increased range of motion
  • Improved joint mobility
  • Decreased stiffness
  • Improved joint relaxation
  • Reduced risk of injury

Here’s a bird's eye view of the benefits and risks of using a sauna before your workout:

Benefits
Risks
Warms the body and muscles
Dehydration
Increases heart rate
Dizziness and faintness
Improves cardiovascular function
Low blood pressure
Improves flexibility

NativeNote: For your safety, be sure to hydrate adequately throughout the day so that losing liquids before your workout doesn’t cause concern.

Using a Sauna After Your Workout

Saunas offer a wealth of benefits for post-workout recovery. After a workout, tension and fatigue often accumulate in the muscles. Saunas combat this by offering dry, radiant heat to alleviate muscle tension and promote relaxation, fostering faster recovery.

Another way that saunas can speed up muscle recovery is by triggering the release of heat shock proteins. These proteins help cells adapt to stress, protect them from damage, and promote repair and regeneration. They can also help stimulate the production of human growth hormone (HGH) (6). Heat shock proteins and HGH are widely known to promote muscle growth and repair. 

In addition to recovery, your post-workout sauna sesh can also reduce inflammation (7, 8). Inflammation is a natural response to muscle damage, and while acute inflammation (like redness, swelling, heat, or pain) can be healthy, chronic inflammation (which lasts for weeks, months, or even years) can be a problem. 

There are two studies, in particular, that confirm this. The first is a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, which found that post-workout saunas reduced inflammation in male endurance athletes (9). The second study, published in the Journal of Athletic Training, found that regular sauna use effectively reduced oxidative stress in male athletes (10). (Oxidative stress arises when there’s an imbalance of harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can trigger inflammation.)

Muscle recovery? Check. Reduced inflammation? Check. What else?

Saunas also help your body acclimate to heat, which betters your ability to tolerate hot environments. According to dietitian Jordan Sullivan, through heat acclimation, “sweat glands become better at reabsorbing electrolytes, and your kidneys become better at retaining sodium, so less sodium is lost for a given activity.” 

He goes on to note that “You also have greater preservation of plasma volume in your blood, which means you have less cardiovascular strain in the heat.” Put simply, your body will become more efficient in the heat (this is especially beneficial in the summer or if you live in a warm climate). You lose less electrolytes when you sweat, and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.

To summarize, here’s a complete list of the benefits and risks of using a sauna after a workout:

Benefits
Risks
Promotes relaxation
Dehydration
Improves muscular recovery
Elevates heart rate
Reduces inflammation
Low blood pressure and glucose levels
Heat acclimation

NativeNote: It’s best to wait around 10 minutes after your workout to enter a sauna so that you don’t overheat too quickly.

Frequently Asked Sauna Questions

When you choose to use the sauna depends on you and your health goals. Personally, I love to finish my workouts with a sauna session—it’s a great time to stretch, decompress, and feel rejuvenated. But on chilly mornings, when I’m struggling to get my workout going, I find it extremely helpful to jump in the sauna for 5 minutes to warm up my body and wake up my mind.

Kat Kennedy
Article by

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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