Some matches are made in heaven. Think about avocado toast or falling in love in Paris - life doesn’t get any better. The same is true for stretching in a sauna.
In this blog post, I explore this concept in more detail. I’ll first consider the current science of stretching and then explore its wonderful application in saunas - you’ll also learn why an infrared sauna is your best bet.
So let’s begin at the beginning:
Stretching Science 101
Flexibility is one of the capabilities most affected by the ageing process (1; 2 ; 3). Having a high activity level is protective of retaining flexibility, and, including stretching is one way to keep your flexibility is one way to keep your levels high once you become older.
Stretching also increases muscular performance (4; 5; 6; 7). Hence, if you can keep yourself flexible through stretching that will also increase your overall athletic performance.
In its simplest form, the goal of stretching is to increase the “range of motion” of a joint. Injury prevention is also a frequent goal of stretching, as well as warming up your system before exercise.
Different types of stretching exist. You can stretch statically, whereby you hold a position for a moment, up to several minutes. And you can stretch dynamically, whereby you move a joint through its full range of motion.
The former (static) type of stretching is associated with poorer outcomes during exercise if you perform it just before you engage in exercise. The latter isn’t necessarily.
Stretching doesn’t have a universal negative effect upon performance though: dynamic stretching can increase performance by activating muscles and increasing your body temperature.
Both static and dynamic stretching can be carried out in many different ways too. Examples of static stretching are engaging in different types of yoga, using a therapist to help you stretch, and objects such as bands or a wall to carry out different stretches.
Bending down and trying to touch your toes with your fingers or even hands is a classical example of static stretching. Running around while swinging your arms in circles, in turn, is a classic example of dynamic stretching. I don’t want to give you an exhaustive list of the different types of stretching though.
Instead, the most important thing to remember is this: in a sauna, static stretching is the preferred method because you’re located in an enclosed space. Dynamic stretching is also possible, assuming you’ve got a sufficiently large sauna and aren’t walking or running around.
For instance, carrying out hip swings is very well possible within a sauna, but mobility work, while you’re running, is impossible. For that reason, I’ll mainly focus on static stretching and dynamic stretching that doesn’t necessitate walking or running in this blog post:
Sauna Stretching: Why It’s A Match Made In Heaven
Let me begin by saying that sauna stretching is massively underrated. For optimal results though, I generally recommend using a bigger sauna because it leaves you with more space for your sauna stretching routine.
Hence, a 1-Person Clearlight Sanctuary Full-Spectrum Sauna is a poorer choice than a 4-Person Clearlight Sanctuary Full-Spectrum Sauna. The latter sauna has aptly been named our “Yoga” model - there’s enough floor space in this sauna to use a yoga mat on the floor and carry out yoga stretches that take up more space.
The Clearlight Sanctuary Yoga model is almost 2 metres wide and high, and 1.5 metres deep. That space allows you to carry out stretches that take up lots of room, such as yoga for your hamstrings and glutes or other hip muscles while you’re laying on the floor. These stretches that take up lots of space are impossible to carry out in a 1-person sauna model.
So, let’s finally get to the heart of the matter: why are stretching and (infrared) sauna sessions a match made in heaven? The reason is simple: if you’re spending 20 or 30 minutes in an infrared sauna anyway, you can simply combine two activities at once.
You can even listen to your favourite podcast or audiobook while you’re engaging in this routine. Now, you might be thinking about the difference between an infrared sauna and a traditional one and their effect on your stretching routine.
My opinion on that topic is simple:
Infrared saunas are far less harsh and feel a lot more relaxing because the air temperature is much lower in them. Infrared saunas have a maximum temperature of 55 degrees Celsius while traditional saunas like a Finnish sauna can reach temperatures of 110 degrees.
If you’d like more information on this topic, I recommend reading my blog post about How Hot Is A Sauna.
Infrared saunas have more advantages though. In a 2015 study, a traditional sauna was compared to a far infrared sauna model. The study concluded that the infrared sauna sessions were superior for post-workout recovery of the neurological and muscular system in endurance athletes (8).
Besides that, saunas have a wide variety of benefits, such as improving blood circulation, helping you lose more weight, enhancing blood sugar management, giving you more deep sleep, and lowering stress. Of course, you’ll receive all these benefits on top of the benefits of stretching, so you’re hitting two birds with one stone. If you’re curious about this topic then read my extensive guide about infrared sauna advantages and disadvantages.
So, what are your sauna exercises for stretching? Next up, you and I explore options together:
Sauna Exercises For Mobility, Stretching, Yoga, And More
If you’re interested in sauna stretching or yoga or mobility work, I can recommend some world-class sources on the topic. The benefit of these sources is that you can fully independently develop a sauna routine where no instructor is necessarily required.
I, therefore, want to recommend some amazing resources for building your own stretching routine:
- The Anatomy of Stretching, Second Edition: Your Illustrated Guide to Flexibility and Injury Rehabilitation, second edition, 2011, by Brad Walker.
- Yoga Anatomy: Your Illustrated Guide To Postures, Movements And Breathing Techniques, third edition, 2021, by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews. This guide is amazing for yoga, taking you by the hand to learn the most basic to the most advanced yoga poses in a safe way.
- Magnificent Mobility; 10 Minutes to Better Flexibility, Performance and Health, first edition, 2012, by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. The focus of this DVD series is dynamic stretching, but almost all of these stretches can be carried out in an enclosed space like a big infrared sauna.
- Becoming A Supple Leopard (The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance), second edition, 2015, by Kelly Starrett. This guide once more focuses on dynamic stretching, not static, but it’s a godsend because the exercises are all illustrated and easy to learn.
With these four excellent resources, you not only know more about stretching than 99.99% of the human population but also more than the average physical therapist or yoga instructor.
You can make your stretching routine as simple or as advanced as you want to.
But what if you don’t want to combine the sauna and stretching? So, is using a “sauna before or after stretching best?” The answer to that question is that it doesn’t really matter - unless you’re engaging in exercise too.
If you work out, doing so before your sauna session gives the most benefit because you really get the lymphatic system moving. The lymphatic system aids in removing any unnecessary compounds from your cells, and therefore can indirectly help with your body’s detoxification.
Remember that static stretching impeded physical performance during exercise if they’re located too closely together. In such a case, it’s best to carry out your workout first, then do a sauna session, and carry out the static stretching during your sauna session or afterwards.
Anyone can do it really…
And, with that being said, let’s conclude:
Conclusion: The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good
I hope I’ve convinced you that combining saunas is a match made in heaven. If you don’t like sitting still for 20 or 30 minutes during an infrared sauna session, then you can more efficiently use your time by combing the two.
From another perspective though, the benefits of both are synergistic. The increased body temperature and infrared light make stretching easier because you’re properly warmed up. Stretching, in turn, increases your core body temperature further because you’re engaged in an activity, which means you’ll be sweating more.
Sweating more, in turn, ensures that detoxification through your skin increases. So, combining the two activities is a big win-win. And what if you don’t like combining these two activities? No worries, in that case, just stretch after your sauna session and relax with some music or a podcast in your sauna.
Alternatively, you can even do sauna exercises, such as kettlebell swings. But, that’s another topic for another day, as it’s a more advanced technique that requires more context. The possibilities are endless though…