Intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing improves markers of exercise capacity in hot and temperate conditions in trained middle-distance runners

Nathalie Kirby, Sam Lucas, Ollie Armstrong, Samuel Weaver, Becky Lucas

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PURPOSE: This study investigated whether intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing across three-weeks endurance training improves exercise heat tolerance and exercise performance markers in temperate conditions, compared to endurance training alone. The subsidiary aim was to determine whether exercise-heat tolerance would further improve following 7-Weeks post-exercise sauna bathing.

METHODS: Twenty middle-distance runners (13 female; mean ± SD, age 20 ± 2 years, [Formula: see text]O2max 56.1 ± 8.7 ml kg-1 min-1) performed a running heat tolerance test (30-min, 9 km h-1/2% gradient, 40 °C/40%RH; HTT) and temperate (18 °C) exercise tests (maximal aerobic capacity [[Formula: see text]O2max], speed at 4 mmol L-1 blood lactate concentration ([La-]) before (Pre) and following three-weeks (3-Weeks) normal training (CON; n = 8) or normal training with 28 ± 2 min post-exercise sauna bathing (101-108 °C, 5-10%RH) 3 ± 1 times per week (SAUNA; n = 12). Changes from Pre to 3-Weeks were compared between-groups using an analysis of co-variance. Six SAUNA participants continued the intervention for 7 weeks, completing an additional HTT (7-Weeks; data compared using a one-way repeated-measures analysis of variance).

RESULTS: During the HTT, SAUNA reduced peak rectal temperature (Trec; - 0.2 °C), skin temperature (- 0.8 °C), and heart rate (- 11 beats min-1) more than CON at 3-Weeks compared to Pre (all p < 0.05). SAUNA also improved [Formula: see text]O2max (+ 0.27 L-1 min-1; p = 0.02) and speed at 4 mmol L-1 [La-] (+ 0.6 km h-1; p = 0.01) more than CON at 3-Weeks compared to Pre. Only peak Trec (- 0.1 °C; p = 0.03 decreased further from 3-Weeks to 7-Weeks in SAUNA (other physiological variables p > 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Three-weeks post-exercise sauna bathing is an effective and pragmatic method of heat acclimation, and an effective ergogenic aid. Extending the intervention to seven weeks only marginally improved Trec.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2020


  • Post-exercise sauna
  • Thermoregulation
  • Exercise performance
  • Heat acclimation
  • Ergogenic aid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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