A couple months back I alluded to a series of articles devoted to restoration and recovery. Well, it has been a long hiatus off from writing due to full-time coaching and other commitments, but here we go!
Most of all the techniques for recovery I've learned and used all came from research done by the former Soviet Union. Their extensive study into every aspect of athletic enhancement cannot be denied. Without sounding unpatriotic, they were, and in some regards are still, light years ahead of us in the long-term development of athletes.
For those who haven't noticed or are not aware of the similarities, the majority of Coach Davies' work is Soviet-based training protocols. The reason the U.S. got behind the times, with respect to athletic training, is because we used our research dollars for studies that focused around the aerobic and general fitness population . . . unlike the Soviet Union, which poured all their funding into sporting excellence.
This encompassed every aspect of training-pharmacology, sports psychology, visualization, restoration, periodization, nutrition, etc. Their intention was to dominate in every athletic arena in front of international competition, namely the Olympics. It was their staging ground to prove the superiority of their government. The intentions were to flex their muscles through athletics and their nuclear arsenal. The end result of this pursuit was coaching knowledge that was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world.
Everyone at some time or another has been in a sauna. Saunas are found in almost every health club, country club, or spa across the country. But, you know what? Not too many people know what the heck they are for or even know how to use them properly. Many will say it is to help them lose weight. Others say it is good for their pores to sweat and therefore aid the complexion of the skin. A small majority would say for sore joints and what have you.
The funny thing is that I have one at the gym I train at but no one is ever in there. It is an 18,000 square foot gym with thousands of members and still no takers. I feel as though its mine, so I keep the benefits a secret. Too many people are missing out though, especially athletes and those hardcore trainees. I was guilty too. I wish I would have known in my days as a ballplayer that the sauna offered more to me and my friends than to see who could stand the heat the longest and the cool sizzling sounds the coals would make as my friends and I would take turns spitting on the coals.
For the Soviets, the sauna was a very powerful recovery tool. It was not for horseplay. It served a purpose, and it's probably one of the most written about restoration method from the USSR. It was a staple in their total recovery program and they had it down to an exact science. Because of the widespread use of methods such as the sauna, specific protocols surfaced.
Questions And Answers
A few questions I always answer when introducing a newcomer to the sauna include:
"What do I need to take in there?"
I always recommend that one take a shower before and scrub the skin with soap or one of those loofa sponges. The Russians believed this would help unclog the pores of the skin for better removal of waste products found in sweat.
A towel, a squirt bottle with watered-down Gatorade to sip, and another smaller towel to roll up and rest behind your head. You will be laying down.
"How hot does it need to be to get the most benefit?"
Sauna temperature of just under 200 degrees F is what is generally recommended. Most saunas will have a temperature control and thermometer. To quickly heat simply splash some water on the coals.
"How long should it be used for (duration)?"
- 10-15 minutes
- 1-2 times per week
- Should be done 3-6 hours after the workout, if possible
- Never directly after a workout!
"What should be done once I'm in there?"
Once you've adjusted the temperature and set timer, I go and lay on the first tier for 3-4 minutes. Then I will progress to the second tier. Keep in mind the higher up you go the hotter it gets. After 4-5 minutes in the middle, I finish off the remaining time (15 minutes) at the top.
I lay on a towel laid out flat and have a rolled up towel behind my head. It is important to lay in a horizontal position because it keeps your blood pressure under control. Another thing I will do is put my feet up in a vertical position the last 2-3 minutes. This prepares the athlete to walk out of the sauna without feeling lightheaded.
"What are the benefits of doing this a couple times a week?"
Improved recovery from workouts. Studies suggest that 15 minutes in a sauna provides physiological effects that would take 2 hours of rest to achieve. If an athlete can recover from a bout of training more rapidly, he or she can adapt more often within the same period than those who do not utilize such means.
Saunas stimulate the release of growth hormone. Direct heat for 8-10 minutes relaxes muscles and improves local and general blood flow. Saunas reduce the likelihood of neurotic reactions, improve sleep, and normalize metabolic processes. This promotes the excretion of toxins (cadmium, lead, zinc, nickel, sodium, sulfuric acid, and cholesterol) through perspiration via the vasodilatation of sweat glands . If the toxins are not eliminated, fatigue lingers and affects CNS stimulation.
Give the sauna a try. I'll be curious to see if I get any takers, although I do like having the sauna all to myself. Seriously, sometimes the littlest changes or the infusion of something new can pay off with big dividends.