The sauna usually strikes fear into the heart of any combat athlete at the mere mention of its name. This is a place of misery and suffering. Convincing them to step back in is a real struggle. However usage of heat therapy seems to be a nearly universal human tradition, from most well know swedish/finnish sauna (never tell either the other invented it) to Japanese Onsen, Korean JimJilbang, Roman and Turkish Baths and Russian Banya. In England traditionally a smelly bunch we tend to be a bit prudish and still find sauna/bath house culture a novelty.
The sauna or steam room produces a very mild sympathetic stimulus, I’ve discussed manipulation of sympathetic and parasympathetic responses here. This is why subsequent cooling is so important a part of the process also.
Its interesting to note that traditional warrior cultures were also some of greatest bath house cultures. Some sort of secret to recovery? Now before I make an appeal to the ancients there is some good science under pinning the usage of sauna’s and heat therapy.
Saunas can lower cortisol (stress hormone) in fighters
Saunas facilitate recovery from muscular fatigue
Submersion in 42C water can help promote recovery from future training sessions
May aid fatloss
Stimulates immune function in athletes
One other slightly less tangible benefit is quiet contemplation
Dan Gable endorses their use and when Dan Gable tells you to do something you do it! “Theres getting to be science!”
I generally suggest the usage of sauna is done during hardest training cycles.
Here is a routine I adapted from Joel Jamieson. Only difference is I add a short steam into the mix, as I find it helps breathing and evidence suggests it also has similar but slightly different benefits to sauna.
1.You want the Sauna to be at around 190F or 90c
2.Begin by getting in the sauna and stay in until you first break a sweat and then get out.
3. Take a Luke warm shower for a minute or so. Rest until recovered or start feeling normal again.
4.Get back in the sauna and stay in for 5-10 minutes.
5.Take another shower this time COLD as cold as possible. For 30seconds to a minute (be ready for cold shock!)
Get out of the shower, and rest in a cool place for 3-10 minutes, some fancy leisure suites have tepidarium for this.
6.Return to the sauna 10-15mins or alternatively a steam room for 7-10mins (in the UK we often has both in the same facility)
7. Take another shower this time COLD as cold as possible. For 30seconds to a minute (be ready for cold shock!)
8.Get back in the sauna for another 10-15 minutes and then get out
9.Take another shower, this time make it fairly warm and stay in for 1-2 minutes
Dry yourself completely off, lay down and relax for 5-10 minutes
The more experienced you are the longer you could potentially stay.
This comes with a warning be prudent when making use of the sauna or steamroom build familiarity first, everyone’s response to heat stress is different.
This is an ongoing series of blog posts from guest blogger and Strength & Conditioning coach William Wayland of Powering Through, who works with UFC, Cagewarriors and other high level combat athletes based in Chelmsford, UK. Facebook