Training to what degree?

Serious athletes are going to be looking for this performance tool!

So I wanted to talk about how the environment can assist an athlete’s performance.  As a trail runner I’ve been poking around for some information regarding sauna heat and its effect on endurance training. This is partly because I have a far infrared sauna at my office, I offer sauna training, and one of my clients recently ran the Western States 100 and included post-workout sauna training in his training regimen. Tony Stafford, who is also the Estes Park High School Cross Country Coach, ran an awesome race and hit his goal time to boot!

During his massages I would pick his brain for information on the impact of heat on his workouts. Tony told me that at times it was tough to stay in the sauna, but he persevered and believes it helped him adapt to the hot temperatures he experienced during the race. He found that sipping water while inside the sauna and allowing the body to cool down naturally afterwards helped the body adapt to the heat better. That’s the kicker, the benefit, to let the body come back to equilibrium in its own time. The more often it does this, the quicker the adaptation.

I’ve read different articles on the benefits of sauna training and it’s so exciting to think of the difference this could make for an athlete. Heat can benefit the cardiovascular system, decrease heart rate, lower core body temperature during a workout, increase blood flow to skeletal muscle and tissues, decrease the rate of glycogen depletion, increase red blood cell count and the efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles, and it goes on…

And so you may ask, how does this help with speed? Well, one study taken in 2006 by Guy S.M. Scoon and other researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand measured effects on performance over a treadmill run to exhaustion at personal record 5k pace. It showed that a 30-minute post-workout sauna session over 9 weeks increased the time that it took for study participants to run until exhaustion by 30%, translating to about a 2% improvement in time in an actual race. Reconfigure that any way you want, it’s still an awesome physiological adaptation made by the body over a short period of time!

The benefits of heat also suggest that this type of training doesn’t have to be restricted to those ‘hot’ races but can be used in any climate and at any elevation. Heat training has proven to increase  blood volume, blood plasma and the red blood cell count. These are physiological adaptations that the body requires for changes in altitude too. So also a good way to train for altitude races when the body hasn’t had the benefit of acclimation.

Of course, I would suggest that anyone interested in this type of training check with their physician first to make sure that heat doesn’t interfere adversely with their health.

You can find out more by reading the following articles on the Trail Runner Magazine and Ultra Runner Podcast websites . If you want to skip to the sauna part of the interview with David Roche, it’s about 40 minutes in from the start.

Leaving you with the thought, along with our pre-training/race and post-training/race stretches, warm-ups, massages, activity tracker downloads and nutrition preparation, why not go that extra degree and crank up the heat! And if you’ve used sauna training before or are thinking about using it, I would be very interested to hear from you!

Happy hot trail training…