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How a Steam Room May Help Boost Fitness Potential

Is it hot in here, or are you looking better than ever? Actually, both—assuming you use a steam room as part of your fitness regimen. Here’s how the power of steam can help you reach your physique and athletic goals.

How Steam May Help Boost Your Fitness Potential 

What if you learned that there’s a way to improve your fitness results, and all you have to do is sit down and relax? Of course, it depends on where you sit. The truth is that taking the time to sit in a steam room, especially before and after a workout or any physical activity, may make a huge difference in you achieving your fitness goals.

Most people are familiar with steam rooms, and you may have even spent time in one. But what many active people and serious athletes don’t realize is the potential benefits that steam therapy (or hyperthermic conditioning) may provide on the cellular level. Because of recent research on hyperthermic conditioning, we now know the mechanisms involved, and how you can use them to reap the benefits.   

If you have access to a steam room, why wouldn’t you use it? Before you answer that question, you should learn why you should use it, and what science says about the effects of hyperthermic conditioning on training and muscle integrity.

Here’s what steam heat can do for you in the following crucial areas.

Learn more about the benefits of steam bathing... Download the full list here.

Five Ways in Which a Steam Room MAY Benefits Your Workout

1. Breathing and Lung Capacity

Breathing may seem like an automatic function that doesn’t require conscious effort, but, for athletes and everyday active people, poor breathing technique can affect your performance during training and competition. Having obstruction from allergies, environmental toxins, (exercise-induced) asthma, and routine nasal congestion can affect your strength and endurance capacity. Problem is, we can get so used to our breathing deficiencies that we don’t even know they’re holding us back!

This is where a session in a steam room may feel like a revelation.

Steam heat has been shown to help open up and relax your respiratory system, which may improve overall pulmonary function. By clearing up your breathing passageway, you increase your ability to get more oxygen into your system, which can go a long way to allowing greater exercise capacity during workouts and competitions. [1] [2]


How a Steam Room Benefits Your Workout: muscle recovery

2. Muscle Recovery, Growth, and Maintenance

One animal study discovered that intermittent hyperthermia may enhance muscle regrowth and limit muscle cell damage after physical activity. One way this is accomplished is through reduced protein degradation through the creation of “heat shock proteins” (HSP). These sound intimidating, but HSPs actually protect against a stress reaction (by fighting free radicals), and can help repair damaged proteins. With protein integrity intact, muscle-building nutrients can go to work on muscle cells that are damaged through training. [3] [4]   

Heat from steam may also help increase growth hormone (GH) and IGF-1 release in the body. Both of these hormones can exert tremendous effects on muscle growth naturally and safely. One animal study found that the increase in GH due to hyperthermic conditioning was a whopping 16-fold! With GH being a favorite hormone sought by the anti-aging crowd, maybe a daily session in the steam room should be a first option before seeking a prescription. [5] [6]


3. Aerobic Performance  

Several mechanisms are at work here. One is blood flow. The heat from steam may help increase circulation, which brings healing nutrients to your hungry muscle cells that are damaged during intense physical exertion. Improved blood flow also contributes to what weight-training athletes call “the pump,” which not only feels great, but helps saturate your muscles with muscle-growth activators and nutrients that repair and strengthen cells. This process also increases plasma volume, another advantage that helps during athletic activity and subsequent recovery.[7]

This also has the effect of bringing more oxygen to muscles, which improves aerobic efficiency. When you improve your overall cardiovascular system, you can lower heart rate, another boon to exercise performance. Being acclimated to heat from a steam room on a regular basis may help lower overall core body temperature, which promotes a stronger ability for the body to engage in physical activity harder and longer. [8]  [9]

Steam room sessions may also help increase red blood cells. It’s well-known among serious athletes that extra red blood cells can greatly enhance endurance capacity. That’s why doping cyclists in the Tour de France (not naming any names, Lance) used EPO (erythropoietin), a banned drug that increases red blood cells artificially. That’s how valuable it is to have extra red blood cells, and hyperthermic conditioning can help you obtain them the natural way. This process also increases plasma volume, another advantage that helps during athletic activity. It’s win-win-win. [10]


4. Body Weight Management

Sessions in a steam room may help you shed a few pounds, according to research and anecdotal accounts. While some of this weight is definitely through the body’s sweating mechanism and is mostly fluids, hyperthermic conditioning can help optimize your body’s fluid retention over the long haul. Just always remember to replenish and rehydrate with water after sessions in a steam room, as well as during workouts in and outside of your health club or wherever you exercise. [11]

Combined with all of the other physiological effects outlined above, steam heat may help make your body a more metabolically efficient machine through improved circulation, increased muscle mass, better oxygen efficiency, and hormonal changes, particularly increased GH, that can positively affect weight loss.


5. Beautiful Skin

You work out to improve your muscle tone and body weight—in short, to be more attractive and healthy looking—so you want to cover all that awesomeness with clean, smooth skin. Steam rooms may help give you beautiful skin through increased blood flow (see above), which helps clean toxins from your system. The moist heat from a steam room also opens up your pores, another avenue for removing the bacteria and dirt that causes pimples, blackheads, and other skin eruptions. Beauty is more than skin deep, but it’s still a good place to start! [12]


Ready to Include Time in a Steam Room with your Workout?

As you can see, spending time in a steam room before and after a workout can be a simple way to improve your chances to achieve your fitness and athletic goals. And it couldn’t be an easier fix. Sometimes when it comes to your fitness lifestyle, you may overlook the simple ways to improve your body inside and out. Take advantage of steam rooms when you can. It’s a hot time well spent.    

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Article References:

[1] Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126 (2001). 

[2] Lungs and ventilation in sauna. 

[3] Selsby, J. T. et al. Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. J Appl Physiol (1985) 102, 1702-1707, doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00722.2006 (2007)

[4] Naito, H. et al. Heat stress attenuates skeletal muscle atrophy in hindlimb-unweighted rats. J Appl Physiol 88, 359-363 (2000). 

[5] Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126 (2001). 

[6] Leppaluoto, J. et al. Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing. Acta physiologica Scandinavica 128, 467-470, doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1986.tb08000.x (1986). 

[7] Ricardo J. S. Costa, M. J. C., Jonathan P. Moore & Neil P. Walsh. Heat acclimation responses of an ultra-endurance running group preparing for hot desert-based competition. European Journal of Sport Science, 1-11 (2011).

[8] Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American journal of medicine 110, 118-126 (2001). 

[9] Kuennen, M. et al. Thermotolerance and heat acclimation may share a common mechanism in humans. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology 301, R524-533, doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00039.2011 (2011).

[10] Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S. & Cotter, J. D. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia 10, 259-262, oi:10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009 (2007). 

[11] Podstawski, Robert, Tomasz Boraczynski, Micha‚ Boraczynski, Dariusz Choszcz, Stefan Mankowski, and Piotr Markowski. "Sauna-Induced Body Mass Loss in Young Sedentary Women and Men." The Scientific World Journal 2014 (2014)

[12] I, I, Vuori. “Sauna Bather’s Circulation. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 1988.


Content Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of MrSteam or Sussman Automatic Corp. The information provided is not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. 

Topics: Health & Wellness, Sports, Performance, & Fitness