Heat Training Advice

saunas for heat training

My best advice for heat training and your rest day is spending time in the sauna!

As a Scandinavian, I grew up visiting the sauna. Unlike in the UK, where many places restrict the age limit in saunas to +16 years old; Nordic children are from a young age are encouraged to pay a visit. My home country, Sweden, has a strong sauna tradition. Arguably Finland has the most deep-rooted sauna tradition, where sauna visits form part of the daily routine all-year-round and the standard one-bedroom flat comes with its own sauna. Visiting the sauna is a holy ritual. Before the modern times, the fact that a sauna could be heated to 100oC making it sterile made it the preferred place for minor surgery and childbirth. The body’s response to gentle, persistent heat is well-documented and proven. The sauna is the secret weapon for all ultrarunners.

There are two main sauna types; the Finnish sauna which is hot and dry at 90oC and the bio-sauna which has higher humidity at around 50 to 60oC. Many times, the bio-sauna is scented.

The right way to enjoy a sauna is allowing yourself enough time. I normally do about 20 to 30 min each time and then cool down outside and then go for round two.

Test your ability to keep hydrated 

The sauna is an excellent place to test your salt and nutrition strategy. While sweating, consume the drinks and salt you intend to use during your hot race and see how your stomach and body react to the heat combined with nutrition. Set yourself a time target how long you want to stay in the sauna. Start on the highest bench in the sauna (warmest) and move down if required. You can take your fluids inside the sauna or step-out to take them. This exercise will help you to identify your heat thresholds and how to best manage these. Be careful not to overdose on salt; the purpose is to test.

Stretch while getting your heart rate up

In the sauna, tension fades and muscles unwind. The deep sweating flushes toxins from your body. You get a cardiovascular workout as blood vessels dilate and your heart rate increases, burning calories. This passive workout is excellent for a rest day. As muscles relax and aches get soothed you can use the time for stretching. The sauna is a good place to do light stretch and core work. I have repeatedly surprised myself being able to do a yoga bind I have aspired to do for a while in the sauna. 

Relax and take your time

Saunas relieve stress. As an example, the heat from the sauna stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s all-natural “feel good” chemical. Heat stimulated endorphins can have a tranquilising effect, minimising muscle pain and soreness. Heat also increases blood flow, speeding up the body’s healing process.

Note: the article is not intended to provide medical advice. 

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