Should You Use A Sauna Before Or After Working Out?

Sweating as a means to promote overall health and wellness has been practiced across cultures throughout history and continues today through the use of saunas (via Medical News Today). While the degree of humidity can vary depending on the type of sauna being used, the temperature of a sauna is generally kept between 158 degrees and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. 

While research is limited, a 2018 review published in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that saunas may offer health benefits, and may even improve heart health. Even more interesting were findings from two different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland. One 2016 study found that using a sauna anywhere between four to seven times weekly may decrease dementia risk. Similarly, a 2018 study found that sauna use of the same frequency may reduce one's risk for stroke.

With so many potential health benefits, it's no wonder some people use saunas as part of their regular exercise routine, but are saunas best used to prime us for a workout or are we better off sweating it out after the fact?

Why it's riskier to use a sauna before a workout

Board-certified clinical exercise physiologist Heather A. Milton tells Shape that stepping into a sauna pre-workout doesn't activate our muscles in the same way as a more effective warm-up such as stretching. Not only that, but sweating it out in a sauna prior to sweating it out in the gym will have you losing additional body fluid — leaving you susceptible to dehydration. 

Additionally, while some research indicates that our blood pressure decreases while in a sauna, a 2019 study found that upon stepping into a sauna, blood pressure and heart rate actually increase to the same degree as a moderate workout on an exercise bike — and there's no need to tire yourself out prior to a workout. Rather, participant blood pressure and heart rate were found to significantly decrease after leaving the sauna.

Trainers at EOS Fitness reinforce that it's best to visit a sauna after your workout. Saunas relax the muscles, and relaxed muscles are more susceptible to tearing and injury if you jump right into exercise. Rather, use that relaxation to your muscles' advantage. Milton elaborates, telling Shape, "it has been suggested that [taking a sauna after a workout] can help with relaxation, the transition from exercise to a more rested state, and perhaps can help with decreasing delayed-onset muscle soreness."

However, to avoid getting lightheaded, Milton suggests a few minutes of gentle stretches to lower your heart rate before getting into a sauna.