Sauna Study: Post exercise sauna bathing improved exercise performance more than endurance training alone

The Study

A study (published November 19, 2020) by the University of Birmingham examined whether intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing across three-weeks endurance training improved exercise heat tolerance and exercise performance indicators in temperate conditions, compared to only endurance training. The goal was to determine whether exercise-heat tolerance would further improve following 7-Weeks post-exercise sauna bathing.

With upcoming major athletic events taking place in extreme heat, such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (postponed to 2021) and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, it is important that athletes are prepared to compete in such challenging conditions. Post-exercise sauna bathing was shown to provide a practical and accessible heat acclimation alternative to active heat acclimation that could be implemented without disruption to an athlete’s training plan.

Study Conclusions

Post-exercise sauna bathing for 3 weeks is an effective and pragmatic method of heat acclimation, and effective in enhancing exercise performance. This study found post-exercise sauna bathing for 3 weeks induced heat acclimation adaptations and improved exercise performance including 𝑉 O2max, running speed, and time-to-exhaustion more than endurance training alone.

Specifically, intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing on average improved VO2max by ~8%, running speed at 4 mmol L−1 [La−] by ~4%, and time to exhaustion by ~12%, all of which were significantly greater improvements than those who only participated in endurance training and did not sauna after exercising.

The study of the effectiveness of post-exercise sauna bathing to induce heat acclimation is especially timely as the upcoming Tokyo Olympic games are projected to be the hottest Summer Olympic Games to date. We observed that heat acclimation was nearly maximized by three weeks of intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing and 7 weeks did not induce any further meaningful physiological improvements. Thus, athletes need to only include a post-exercise sauna regime for 3 weeks to achieve beneficial adaptations.

To read the full study, click here.

Kirby, N.V., Lucas, S.J.E., Armstrong, O.J. et al. Intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing improves markers of exercise capacity in hot and temperate conditions in trained middle-distance runners. Eur J Appl Physiol (2020)