What Do You Need More – Hot Tub Vs Sauna For Recovery

There is no doubt that both hot tub and sauna are great for muscle recovery. But are any of them slightly better than the other? Heat is probably the most important element when it comes to providing relief from sore muscles.

The heat will increase your internal temperature that enhances blood flow to muscle areas and it will certainly reach where it is most needed. Technically, both saunas and hot tubs generate heat, but which is better to use for faster muscle recovery?

Your hot tub is way more superior when it comes to recovering and preventing sore muscles. Even though a sauna is used to generate heat, the results are only temporary.

The basics of physics say that water is a good conductor of heat while air is a good insulator. So a liter of water will contain more heat than a liter of air. In this case hot tub vs sauna, we can say that hot tubs definitely win.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the topic and try to answer some more questions.

Are Hot Tubs Good For Muscle Recovery?

Absolutely! Other than generating heat and warming up your muscles and joints before and after the workout, it can additionally help loosen them up as well with the use of air jets. They will generate water pressure exactly where you need and stimulate the muscle to work by relaxing it first.

Does sitting in a Hot Tub Dehydrate you?

In addition to the health benefits of sauna bathing, there are also some muscle recovery and performance improvements to consider, even if you’re already well-trained. In one study, a small group of well-trained long-distance runners who sat in the sauna for 30 minutes four times a week after training improved their performance in a race to exhaustion by 32 percent and reduced their 5K time by nearly two percent after just three weeks. In addition to that, they have seen maximum muscle recovery in the shortest time possible.

You can reap the benefits of sauna bathing anytime. But while some people like to warm up their muscles in the sauna before a workout – which helps you relax but shouldn’t replace your usual warm-up. Saunas can be even better after a workout when you’re still a little dehydrated.

When you’re a little dehydrated, you have a lower blood volume, explains exercise physiologist Stacy Sims, Ph.D. When you enter the sauna, your body responds to the warm environment by sending blood to your skin so you can sweat and avoid overheating.

Since you can only circulate a limited amount of blood, blood flow and oxygen delivery to your organs are reduced, so your kidneys stimulate EPO production (yes, the performance-enhancing substance) and plasma volume, which increases your blood volume and thus performance.

In addition, jumping into a sauna after a workout is an endurance athlete’s secret weapon for competing in the heat or at altitude, Sims says. It readjusts thermoregulation thresholds so hot temperatures feel less severe, and it helps improve performance when competing at high altitudes, where mountain air is very dry and dehydrating.

Is Sauna Good For Muscle Recovery?

Sauna might be slightly more practical after a serious injury or surgery since you might have a wound that shouldn’t be soaked. If you have had a muscle injury and you are still in pain, discomfort and cannot move properly, your muscles will start weakening after some time. 

This is exactly where a sauna can benefit athletes by using hyperthermic conditioning, as it slows down the muscle degeneration. Sauna heat treatments will strengthen your muscle regrowth and reduce the possibility of muscle atrophy.

Dr. Patrick explains; “During the injury, you may be immobilized, but you don’t have to be very mobile to sit in the sauna a few times a week to boost your HSP (Heat Shock Protein) levels. This is a clear win in the injury and recovery department.”

Another sauna benefit is the warm temperatures and especially periodic cooling off times in a sauna environment that will aid in relaxing your muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Additionally, it can also help to alleviate asthma, arthritis, physical and mental fatigue, and may aid in flushing out toxins from the body.

Should You Shower After Hot Tub Dipping ?

I was shocked to hear that there are people who simply don’t shower after hot tub dipping. There are many risks associated with this that I think you should be aware of. You can read more about my recent research right here.

Should I Use Sauna Before Or After Workout?

In addition to the health benefits of the sauna, you should also consider the improved performance even if you are already well trained. In one study, a small group of well-trained long-distance runners sat in a sauna for 30 minutes after training four times a week. They improved their performance by 32% in an exhaustion test and reduced their 5 km time by almost 2% after only three weeks.

They can benefit from the advantages of a sauna bath at any time. But while some people like to prepare for their workout by warming up their muscles in the sauna – which helps you relax, but should not replace the usual warming up. Using the sauna after workout can be even better if you are still a little dehydrated.

Should I Use Hot Tub Before Or Hot Tub After Workout

It’s always a good idea to talk with your physician when trying out a new or different health and workout routine that works best for your needs and your body. Hot tub after the workout has many advantages and will help prepare your muscles for faster recovery.

Before you Exercise, Take a 10-20-minute Hot Tub Bath

This helps get the blood flowing and loosen up your muscles. Then, be sure to spend at least 10 minutes stretching out those warm muscles before you start your workout. (You could even do some gentle stretches while you’re in the hot tub.)

After you Exercise, Let your Muscles, Joints and your Heart Rate to Cool Down

You should never go straight to the hot tub right after your workout since you are still warm. Cool down before that and then give it a go. You can try a gentle walk or stretches in order to bring your heartbeat back to normal levels. Only then should you take advantage of a hot tub session to help your mind and body relax and to initiate the healing and recovery process.

You Can Use Sauna As Your Workout Instead

People have been spending time in hot saunas for recreation and relaxation for hundreds of years. There is one way where saunas are really good and it can probably surprise you. Instead of using a sauna before or after the workout, what if the sauna was the workout? Here me out. 

If you look at it from a different angle, many sauna benefits are in fact the same health benefits that you get from exercising. The reason for this is because a sauna tricks your body into responding the same way it does when you are working out. It potentially leads to a whole chain of physiological changes that help protect your body from a bunch of chronic diseases, the researchers believe. 

Here are some facts. When you are hanging out in a sauna, which is in many cases a small wooden room heated to very high temperatures by a pit of hot rocks, your body responds much as if you were climbing up a hill. Your heart rate goes into a training zone of 120 to 150 bpm while your temperature rises. You also start dripping with sweat, and your body is starting to pump out hormones like adrenaline and growth hormone. Most people find it effective to spend 5 to 20 minutes sitting in the heat, though experienced bathers can hang out there a bit longer.

How Long Should You Stay In A Sauna Before A Workout?

If still after all of this you prefer to use the sauna before and/or after your workout then you should consider the following tips I have for you.

It is really important that you enjoy the sauna after the workout and not before. It is shown that the effects of the heat would interfere with your workout. 

A study at the University of Otago in New Zealand involving six long-distance runners proved that sauna use led to significant improvement in the men’s endurance. It resulted in an increase in their blood volume. 

The experient started with the men sitting in a sauna for about 30 minutes after their usual treadmill run. They have been doing this for 3 weeks. They then kept doing the same exercise for another 3 weeks but without the sauna. After the experiment was over, the researchers concluded that the sauna sessions “produced a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.”

Still, there are people who visit to the sauna before the workout as well. It turned out that an extended session is counterproductive in several ways:

  1. Excessive relaxation, physically and psychologically. Muscles in this state have a higher risk of being injured by the following workout. Emotionally, you do not want to be relaxed too much when entering your workout anyways.
  2. Preheating. Having your sauna pre-heat you will cause you to sweat more during the workout, but without exerting any more of the effort that burns calories.
  3. Dehydration. Now, this makes total sense in a way that when you sweat ahead of your workout, your body loses fluids. That will significantly affect your performance during the workout.

Now take a look at the benefits that a sauna offers in case you decide to postpone your visit until after the workout:  

  1. Extra sweat. In case there is some extra waste that builds up in your muscles and joints during the workout, it can be carried by the blood to the surface of your skin, and emoved by sweat.
  2. Heat. Now that your body had that workout, the after-workout sauna heat can be relaxing and soothing for your muscles without the risk of needing to work extra hard after the sauna and getting injured.
  3. Heart rate. Sitting in the sauna will elevate your heart rate to levels similar to moderate workouts. This means that you are basically extending your workout benefits to the sauna time, until your cool off completely.

With all of this being said, the sauna session can definitely boost the healthful effects of your workout. Make sure you check with your trainer and your physician in order to make sure you are using the regimen that is just right for you.

Regular People Sauna Suggestions

Since this website is about hot tubs and we have talked a lot about those, it would be good to have one article talking about sauna. So here I will list some things that I found people experienced during their sauna time.

Do Not Drink Water While In Sauna

There are people who believe that drinking water in a sauna will immediately make one sweat, but then it would defeat the purpose. The belief that it is best to sweat out the excess and rehydrate later. Some people usually prefer the original, 100 C, or 212 F.  In case that’s too much for you, work your way up to it, and do not wear any metal since it can get really hot!

General note about using hot tubs or saunas for recovery is if you feel light-headed, nauseous or otherwise overwhelmed while in there, exit immediately and work on re-hydrating yourself and cooling off. You should always consult with your doctor before doing any hot tub or sauna activity.

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Emily Williams

Emily is a passionate Hot Tubs researcher who loves writing about all things Hot Tubs! She has years of experience and a knack for simplifying complex concepts, these articles are here to answer all your burning questions in a simple and easy to read style.
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