Using the sauna brings many benefits, including increased flexibility. The sauna’s heat positively impacts the body to improve its range of motion. While it’s true that the heat will naturally do this on its own, there’s a way you can become even more flexible after sauna use and over time.
Stretching in a sauna is great for you. Sauna heat improves flexibility by relaxing muscles and ligaments so they can stretch more easily. About 10 minutes of sauna stretching before a workout followed by your normal warm-up routine can help you get more out of your activity and minimize the risk of injury.
Sauna heat promotes flexibility in many ways. We’re going to explore just what it is about the sauna that helps you be a little bit nimbler. You might be wondering if you should stretch while you are still inside the sauna, and we’ll explain why you definitely should engage in some stretching during that relaxing time.
Does Heat Help With Flexibility?
The short answer is yes, heat does improve flexibility. Flexibility refers to the range of motion in particular joints, and it is related to the length and movement of the attached muscles and ligaments. If you want to be more flexible, start using heat regularly.
Multiple studies have found evidence that heat improves flexibility. In a report published in 2013 from the journal Medical Science Monitor, researchers compared how using hot and cold treatments on knees affects flexibility and range of motion.
They found that while cold treatments, such as using ice packs, are helpful to treat injuries, heat therapy is great for preventing injuries in the first place. Heat increases muscle and ligament flexibility by helping them stretch and allowing more fluid movement.
Sauna heat in particular is great for relaxing and loosening tight muscles. The effect of saunas on flexibility doesn’t stop there, though. The heat of the sauna affects the functioning of the entire body, including rebalancing the enzymes in the synovial joint fluid to promote a greater range of motion and limberness.
A study from Auburn University examined the effects of sauna heat on flexibility, and the results were astonishing. Participants using the sauna experienced a whopping 205% increase in flexibility.
Are Some People Just Naturally Inflexible?
A common myth is that some people are innately flexible and that, unless you’re Gumby, there’s not much you can do to significantly improve your natural flexibility. As it turns out, you can indeed do things to increase your flexibility in one or more areas of your body, and doing so doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Using heat, including regularly hanging out in a sauna, can help your mission to become more flexible.
Flexibility tends to diminish over time due to the body’s aging process, injuries, and even seemingly small things like being mildly dehydrated. As muscles and ligaments need the right amount of healthy fluids to function properly, drinking plenty of water before, during, and after sauna use can help improve your flexibility even more.
We’ve covered how a sauna can accelerate the dehydration of your body, so it may be counterintuitive that it can help flexibility (which as we’ve described above is also a function of your hydration). That’s true: if you’re dehydrated already, then stretching in a sauna is going to be hard. Just stay hydrated, though, to avoid having to worry about this!
Is Too Much Flexibility a Problem?
Overall, flexibility is a good thing. There are multiple benefits of flexibility, including:
- Reduced injury risk
- Reduced pain in the muscles, joints, and back
- Better balance
- Improved posture
Too much flexibility, though, can compromise stability. If muscles become too stretched and relaxed, they will be less able to support the joints.
As with most things in life, seeking balance in your body’s flexibility and range of motion is the healthiest option. Using heat consistently to improve mobility, and creating a regular sauna routine to reap all the benefits of using heat, is an enjoyable way to stretch your body within its natural limits.
Using the Sauna Safely
The key to finding a safe balance is to use saunas properly, instead of overusing them. Use them several times a week for consistency and steady improvement, but don’t abuse them. You may be interested in another article we have on how to think about potentially using a sauna every day.
Keep the sauna temperature within the safe range (150–190 degrees Fahrenheit/65-90 degrees Celsius for a traditional sauna and 120–140 degrees Fahrenheit/48-60 degrees Celsius for an infrared sauna).
Additionally, never exceed 15-25 minutes in a traditional sauna or 25-45 minutes in an infrared sauna. As mentioned earlier, always make sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking a lot of water before, during, and after your sauna session.
The sauna heat itself does help improve flexibility by itself, as we have discussed. But you can make it even more effective, by stretching while you’re inside the hot room.
Is Stretching in a Sauna a Good Idea?
Warmth and flexibility are healthy combinations. The intense heat of a sauna causes your body to respond the same as it does during exercise. Both sauna use and physical activity raise the body’s temperature, increase heart rate and circulation, release hormones and enzymes, and promote perspiration to release toxins. When you’re inside a sauna, your body is primed to stretch. Take advantage of this and do some stretching while you’re there.
Stretching in the sauna can help you boost your flexibility and range of motion by loosening your muscles in preparation for exercise. Stretching before a workout followed by your normal warm-up routine can help you get more out of your activity and minimize your risk of injury.
In the aforementioned Auburn University study, participants performed seated and standing hamstring and lower back stretches. One group did these stretches inside a sauna, while the other group did the same stretches at normal room temperature.
Those that stretched in the sauna showed significantly better results, with an increase in flexibility, range of motion, and joint mobility and function. The sauna stretchers also experienced reduced joint stiffness and friction.
You can also practice sauna yoga. In a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, older adults practiced yoga exercises while inside a 150-degree sauna. By the end of the eight-week study, they showed a significant improvement in their flexibility.
Stretching while inside a sauna, whether it’s light stretching exercises or a full yoga routine, can help your flexibility in many ways. It can:
- Relax and stretch muscles and ligaments
- Improve the process of toxin removal through sweat
- Release lactic acid buildup in the muscles to reduce pain, tension, and soreness
Stretching while inside the sauna can be easier on your body than stretching “cold.” Your body is already loose and limber from the heat, so you can stretch more safely and yield better results.
Saunas are helpful to health and wellbeing in so many ways. So you can add “improved flexibility to your” growing list of reasons to continue to, or start, enjoying time in the sauna.