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Can saunas help athletes with heat adaptation?

A recent study has some promising findings

We’re getting toward the middle of August, and by now, cyclists across the country have been riding through hot, and often humid, conditions for weeks on end. At this point, you’ve likely adapted at least somewhat to the heat, but if you’re like most people, it took numerous grueling rides to get there.

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What if there was a way to kick-start that acclimatization process and get your body ready sooner, so you could enjoy more of the summer riding season? According to one group of researchers, the answer to that may be found in your gym’s sauna.

The study

Researchers took 26 trained distance runners (16 female and 10 male) and had them perform heat-tolerance and temperature-exercise tests at the beginning and end of the three-week study. Throughout the three weeks, participants followed a normal exercise training plan, but included two to four 30-minute sessions sitting in a sauna after their workouts each week. The researchers wanted to find out if post-exercise sauna bathing could improve the participants’ ability to perform in the heat.

Encouragingly, the researchers found that the technique worked for both the male and female participants. At the end of the three-week study, the athletes performed better in both the heat-tolerance test and the temperature-exercise test, demonstrating that post-exercise sauna bathing is an effective way to enhance performance in both males and females in hot conditions.

The takeaway

If you have access to a sauna, take advantage of it. Based on the results of this study, it may be an effective way to help your body adapt to the heat, even before the temperature outside begins to climb. Local gyms and rec centres may have one (if they’re open in your area), and if there’s room in the budget, you may want to consider getting a membership. And while you’re there, you might as well hit the weight room while you’re at it, to improve performance even more.

A version of this article was originally published in Canadian Running