Is the Sauna Useful? If so, When and For How Long Should You Sit?

Is the Sauna Useful? If so, When and For How Long Should You Sit?

When asked about the advantages of sauna use at the gym, most people reply with something about detoxing and sweating out the bad stuff. While there is truth to this, I used to joke about the sauna being part of the “executive workout package” and would rarely incorporate it into my week unless I was post-holiday, birthday, or vacation and in need of some detox. Until a few years ago that is when I was lucky enough to come across a study showing a benefit to strength gains through sauna use after an intense strength session. (I couldn’t find the link to this study, but it showed sauna use post workout reducing fiber damage allowing strength gains to be maximized and recovery time minimized.) This aligned with my goals so I started to incorporate sauna post workout, especially after a more intense session.

A few months later I had my genetic testing done and started learning about how to maximize beneficial gene expression through nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation. (I highly recommend getting your genetic testing done as it dramatically reduces the guess work in nutrition and workout programming.) Through these readings I saw many studies finding significant long and short term health marker increases from sauna use beyond what I thought possible.

First, for anyone dealing with one or more risks of cardiovascular disease, a recent study showed dramatic improvements in many important biomarkers indicating reduced risk after just one 30 minute session. (Please don’t be ‘that guy/girl’ and hit the sauna once thinking you’re all fixed… just in case you are I’ll list some upsides to continued use.) If hypertension is a concern for you, then consistent use should be important. A study from The American Journal of Hypertension showed sauna use of 2-3 times/week cutting risk by a quarter and 4-7 time nearly halving it. The point here: on top of eating well and working on your conditioning, spend some time in a hot box.

But there’s more…

When I think of degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, I have to admit that it’s one of the scariest things I can imagine. So when I started finding studies correlating sauna use with decreases in both diseases with as little as 2-3 twenty minute sessions/week I was telling all my clients to take part, but it should be noted that those that sat in the sauna for 4-7 times/week saw ~65% lower risk for both. (Even after adjusting for nutrition and activity.)

There have also been findings published that show sauna use maintaining muscle mass and strength during immobilization or injury. This is obviously useful for me right now (those that don’t know, I had my leg pinned between 2 vehicles by an intoxicated driver on 11/20/17), but I had used this strategy during de-load phases as well.

So, what do you do with all this info? First, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about something like this. (If they ask why you’re interested, feel free to send them all the links provided in this article.) Even once you’re cleared to “go hot”, I would advise using the buddy system, and especially the first time you enter a sauna. The common times I see referenced in research results are 15-20 minutes. I’ve been sitting for 20 minutes, 2-5 times a week (on the higher end now, given my situation.) The temperatures used tend to be around 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit and I’ve seen anecdotal reasoning for toweling off every 7-10 minutes so as to not reabsorb the toxins you’ve released back into your pores (makes sense.) If you’re strength training… *ahem* which you should be… *ahem* plan sauna time after your strength sessions to decrease soreness, speed recovery, as well as all the additional upsides coming with it.

Thanks for reading! Please share this info to help make a healthier world.

Travis Stevens Could Definitely Kick My Ass… but…

Last week I saw an article shared on Facebook. It was an interview with a World Champion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Judo practitioner Travis Stevens and was focused on his thoughts on CrossFit. The article was shared with the following quote from Travis: “It’s like trying to get and education by going to the library to read a few books.” and then the poster comment, “Best metaphor I ever heard on the subject.”

I saw this & thought to myself, “Yeah, I like that. Looking to better yourself in a way that is psuedo-self-guided while having access to many resources that you can vet and consider whether or not you want to incorporate. Sounds like what I like about CF!” So I clicked the link and… Turns out Travis is not a fan of libraries. The article was titled, “Travis Stevens: ‘I’m an Olympian, and I will never do CrossFit’.”

Now before I continue, Travis Stevens is an amazing athlete who has accomplished feats few other people will. His dedication to and achievements in the sports of BJJ and Judo are undeniable. I am not implying… I CAN NOT imply that I have anything to offer near what he can in these pursuits. However… I wouldn’t ask my carpenter to fix my car… especially if he’s Amish. I use this analogy since it seems clear to me that Travis has never been in a CF Box, but simply speaks on what he’s heard about them. Here’s the article and it’s not a long read, judge for yourself.

My reply to the poster was, ” I think as fitness pros, we should look to teach people how to identify when things are done right. Saying, “I’ve heard stories of broken backs, pulled muscles, and other injuries.” can be said about any method, and is truly ignorantly opined. Honestly, when someone diminishes another’s method (without saying why/how theirs is better) they lose credibility in my eyes.” A few agreed with my comment, but most went on to criticize CF for many different reasons. 

So here’s my replies to all the internet commenters…

“So you’re saying Travis should do CrossFit?” No. Travis does not need Crossfit. Would it beneficial to him? Probably if he had a good coach, but it looks like we’ll never know. But no one “needs” CrossFit. No one “needs” Judo, or BJJ, or bodybuilding, or strongman, or any particular method of health and fitness programming that exists today. But they all are useful for getting people moving. And they all become dangerous when the ego gets involved. Especially when it’s the instructors ego. Here’s a list of world class athletes who do use CF and tout its benefits. There’s also all the games competitors. Yes, they follow a progressive strength program. But their conditioning is obviously CF. “Well they’re all on PEDs!” Some are, but all sports at the world class level will have PEDs. All of them. No, that sport is not an exception. Neither is that one. All of them.

“Why do you love CrossFit when the injury rate is so high?” First off, I love my wife, my family, and my friends… and my dog(s) (depending on when you read this, I may have 1 or more). My love is reserved for living things, not brands. I enjoy incorporating CFs methods in an intelligent way to get me in and out of the gym as quickly as possible so I can enjoy as much as life has to offer me. I believe the idea of a high injury rate exists since CF grew in popularity in the same timeframe as social media. And let’s face it, people are much more likely to share a “fail” post. If social media were around in the 80s & 90s (when I was coming up in gyms) I feel you would have seen the same phenomenon in the name of bodybuilding; Ego driven people “exercising” past the point of diminishing return is NOT a new thing. And it’s egotistical to think you’ll stop it.

“It’s primary principle it randomness.” This is not true. What people are referring to is the concept of “constantly varied”; This is not random. Constantly varied should be planned.

  • Random: ran·dom /randəm/ – adjective – chosen without method.
  • Varied: var·ied –ˈ/verēd/ – adjective – incorporating a number of different types or elements.

Randomness is however rampant in gyms. In my almost 2 decades as a Fitness Pro, when a gym goer would explain to me why they were doing an exercise far too many times the reason would be, “I saw (insert hot person’s name) doing it.” Let’s assume “hot person” knew what they were doing; In most cases, even if the exercise purpose was understood by the gym goer, scaling or redesign was the best course. Even still, “constantly varied” is not the primary principle. The first thing taught in the Level 1 Certification is as follows: MCI. Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity. Learn the pattern, practice it to perform it well repeatedly, then add appropriate intensity. This is a great outline for practicing any fitness method intelligently.

“CrossFit is a sport, not a training modality.” This is not true either. Yes, the games do exist, but the training method came first, still exists, has evolved since its inception, and will continue to evolve. Also, and this purely my opinion; I don’t follow the games. When I express this, most CrossFitters look at me like I have two heads. If they’re on I’ll watch. The athletic display is impressive. But I really prefer boxing and MMA. But to be clear, the sport and the training method are different.


Is CrossFit perfect? Nope, but the perfect fitness plan doesn’t exist. But its as good as any method out there and better that most for general health. It’s strengths are that its community based, has an emphasis on eating intelligently (promoting food as more important than exercise), focuses on abilities over aesthetics, and encourages the pushing and highlighting of small wins, not egomaniacaly driving people everyday. This is an important difference between good and bad coaching.

Do not quote this next sentence unless you quote the whole paragraph. You can show me bad CF coaches, bad boxes, and people who were injured following ego; But for every one of those there are countless boxes that have had a marked improvement on the health of their community, people who have gone from being obese to being fit and maintained it for years, senior citizens that can outperform the average 20 year old (not that outperforming the average 20 is impressive nowadays.) And you can look to any brand… in any industry and point out “what’s wrong”. Do it too long and that’s all you’ll tend to see.


Coaches, clients, gym goers, & owners… Can’t we all just get along?

Anyone who’s spent time in a gym (of any size) knows that there will be drama at some point. Relationships gone awry, competition getting out of hand, or just general douchery it’s going to happen. Good coaches and owners know how to deal with it and to do so quickly. If they themselves are the problem… that’s another issue all together but that issue will solve itself when the doors close quickly. I received a query from a frustrated gym goer today who may have been dealing with douchery. Here’s an excerpt that conveys the gist:

“At my gym, the staff either tries to sell me a personal training package or won’t answer any questions at all. I don’t feel like going to the gym anymore. How do I handle this? I have a 24 month membership. Have been a regular for the past 2 and a half months and I’m trying to lose weight. I have lost around 10 lbs. But I have come to realize that the instructors are only looking to make money out of it. How do I find good guidance for my goals?”

Here was my response:

Good job on getting started. That is the hardest part as I’m sure you can remember. In order to not have to start fresh again you have to do the second hardest part… keep going. And you’re doing great so far since you’re made it past the average 3-4 weeks when most drop off. Just keep in mind that in pursuit of any achievement, you will have things, people, and moments that discourage you. Successful people are able to overcome these points by staying focused on the end goal and (while they have a well thought out game plan) they remain adaptable to changing their plan if & when change is needed.

It sounds like you’re looking to change by building up your support system in living healthily, but having trouble finding someone to partner up with. So here’s my advice: I hope you understand that professional guidance will bear a cost at some point but I agree that it shouldn’t break the bank. I can understand both sides of this challenge as Trainer/Coaches come in several different forms. Some are good, some are not. I will say the best, first metric for qualifying a good one is this: Are they insured? If they are, then they are looking to be professional and make sure everyone is taken care of should the worst case happen. If not, then they are just looking to grab money & probably aren’t investing into themselves to be better. There is more to look at beyond this, but make sure this is covered first.

When it comes to education, degrees are good, but not necessary. Having done this as my profession for almost 2 decades, this is not a side job for me. I invest time & money into my profession with continuing education certs regularly and am always reading something related to my personal development but do not have a degree in the field. There are also those in the industry that do this as a side job. I know a few “part time” Fitness Pros that I would recommend, but they are few & far between. Then there are the total obvious scam artists. They can sell ice to eskimos and just copy and paste their programs for everyone. I hope you’re not dealing with this type of Trainers but it sounds like you may be.

Now, I know that not everyone can afford a personal trainer every time they workout. This is why the good ones offer coaching, remote or in person. We meet with the person via phone, video or face to face at the agreed upon times and give them a program to do on their own. If your Trainers don’t offer a variation of this, then they aren’t really able or interested in helping people and unfortunately probably don’t understand exercise enough to build a long term program.

On the flip side, there are gym goers that are always looking for free advice. As I said before, I do this for a living & it is how I put food on the table. I have no problem giving a free session, but I do so for a few reasons: in part to help people get comfortable in the gym, but also to showcase my depth & breadth of knowledge in exercise, health, fitness, and nutrition. So if I’m working with someone (whether it’s a free or paid session) and someone interrupts the appointment to ask me their one hundredth “quick question”, then they aren’t valuing my time or the time of my client. These people can fuck off.

Ultimately health & fitness is a culture of self efficacy & communal respect. Coach or client, gym goer or owner; If one doesn’t understand this then they are hurting their own health & that of their community.

As I said at the beginning, great job on getting started! It really is the hardest part. Now you just have to do the second hardest part: “Keep-ing” Keep going, reading, learning, working, trying, and appreciating what you’ve accomplished so far.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out.