In praise of saunas

From COC Running Director Heidi Caldwell

During the dark days of December in the Northeast Kingdom, we are all about upping our cozy game and hunkering down. Recently, I’ve been channeling the Scandinavian concept of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah). In essence, hygge captures the internal sense of warmth, coziness, and contentment. How to achieve ultimate hygge in the cold snowy months? Saunas. A practice born hundreds of years ago in Finland, saunas are a core part of the hygge lifestyle.

The original practice of sauna-ing in Finland was based in promoting wellness, comfort, and happiness. Saunas can be an indulgent and relaxing way to end your Sunday afternoon or unwind after a long day at work. Saunas can be highly stress-relieving, help you sleep soundly, and are generally cleansing. Plus, saunas are a great social outlet. What better way to catch up with friends than a weekly sauna ritual? Sound crazy? Sauna gatherings are a staple in Scandinavian communities, and the trend has spread to many parts of the world.

Beyond having a relaxing and warming effect, sitting in a hot wooden box might actually be a useful training tool. It may be time to think about adding a sauna session or two to your weekly routine. Here are some things to consider:

The Physiological Benefits. Sitting in a hot sauna, your heart rate goes up, increasing sweat production and signaling blood flow to the skin. All of these mechanisms encourage cardiovascular development.
The Recovery Benefits. Saunas help your muscles and tendons relax and drain after a hard training session. The deep sweat achieved by sauna-ing boosts your ability to flush toxins, thereby speeding up your body’s detoxification and recovery processes.
Heat Adaptation. Saunas help teach your body to better handle the stress of heat. If, for example, you are running the Boston Marathon in April but training through the cold all winter, saunas are a great way to boost heat tolerance and keep your body’s heat-stress mechanisms tuned and primed.
Immune System Booster. Studies show regular sauna-ing can lead to improved lung function and reduce a person’s susceptibility to the common cold.

Don’t just take our word for it: you can find a review of sauna-related studies and detailed findings here and an athletic performance focused study can be found here.

Sauna use by endurance athletes is no new fad. U.S. Cross Country Ski guru John Caldwell once wrote, “After some good exercise, the best thing you can do is come in and take a shower, hot bath, or a sauna. Then, cool off gradually and rest awhile.”

Ready to give it a try yourself? When the primary goal is to boost running performance, it’s best to take a sauna directly post-run. This keeps your heart rate up and skin sweating for an extended period, prolonging the physiological benefits of the workout itself. How long to sauna? Like any type of physical exertion, sauna-ing takes practice, and you need time to build up this specific type of endurance. Be gradual as you begin your sauna routine. Start with 5 or 10 minutes, and, if you really get into it, work your way up to 30 minutes.

So go hop in a sauna and find your inner-hygge – it’s sauna season!

*Note: You are not continuing your workout in the sauna. No exercising in the sauna! Sit down, relax, and sweat it out.
**Also note: Saunas are not recommended the week prior to a race, or the days leading up to a big workout. After those events? Yes, a sauna would be a great way to recover and celebrate!
***SAUNA AT YOUR OWN RISK. (We are not doctors!)

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One Response to In praise of saunas

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