After an intense workout, you might be up for something more relaxing. Yoga, meditation, or simply stretching out are all good options but they might not be what you crave for. If your gym has a sauna or a steam room, it might be tempting to relax your body in either of those two. But which one should you pick, the steamy moist room or the very hot small wooden box? The Sauna vs Steam room debate has been going on for quite some time but I personally think it boils down to your own personal preference
Once you know the benefits and drawbacks of either of those two, you will be able to safely choose what will work better for you and your body and most importantly – when can you use it so that it benefits your routine the most.
If you want to take the whole sauna experience to your own home, head over to my full buyer’s guide one some of the best infrared saunas you can get today. Now, let’s jump straight into this!
The Major Differences
The first and most obvious difference between saunas and steam rooms is in the way they generate their heat. In traditional saunas, the heat is generated in special stoves and the wooden room starts to heat up from that.
Infrared saunas, on the other hand, have IR lamps that heat up your body by penetrating it and generating heat from the inside out. Steam rooms create their effect by boiling water in hidden tanks and thrusting steam into the room, essentially raising the temperature and air moisture.
While the saunas generate a lot more heat with a lot less humidity, steam baths do the opposite. They generate a lot of humidity and oversaturate the air with water, while the air is substantially cooler. These factors contribute to different health benefits but also pose different types of risks to certain people.
Saunas typically have a moisture level of 20-50% and heat up to 90-100 degrees Celsius. This has been proven to be a good combination for your cardiovascular system, especially when done in short visits. Different studies show that this type of environment helps you maintain steady blood pressure and even lower it in the long run. When sitting inside the sauna, your Heart Rate (HR) will raise and you will begin sweating. Sweat will evaporate quicker from your skin due to the low humidity. This allows for profound sweating to occur which cleans your body from toxins at a much higher rate than normal high-intensity training. Saunas also release endorphins, making you feel good and relaxed. They also increase the blood flow to your muscles, making them feel less sore if you are using the sauna as a way to reduce soreness after a workout or a busy day.
Still, staying for intervals that exceed the 20-minute mark on a regular basis can lead to dehydration and loss of vital microelements. It can also lead to heat fatigue which is one of the main side effects of too much sauna (or steam room for that matter).
Logically, steam has a slightly different effect on our bodies. Steam rooms have a temperature between 30 and 50 degrees Celcius and humidity of more than 85%. These conditions allow for far less sweat to evaporate from your body meaning it is a bit easier to overheat your body there, so be careful with your stay-in times.
The steam room offers you warm humid air which acts relaxing to your airways. It is often used to alleviate conditions such as allergies or cold symptoms. It won’t cure your cold but it will temporarily relieve the respiratory symptoms. Steam also has a relaxing effect on our nervous system and is also believed to be good for the skin.
Now, with all that information in mind, let’s sum up when would be the ideal moment to pick either one of these two options…
When to pick the Steam Room
In terms of the time of the year, Spring is the time when most people crowd towards steam rooms. While the air is fresher, all the flora is blossoming meaning people’s allergies are acting up. This makes them search for a solution, albeit quite short-termed one. The other period where I notice more people flocking towards the tiled humid room is Autumn, more specifically the flu season. Warm steam has a soothing effect on basically all parts of your body that can be affected by allergies or a cold. It warms up the skin, moisturizes it, makes your eye feel better and loosens up the mucose lining of your airways which allows your lungs to expand and fill with air.
Whether or not steam rooms are beneficial immediately after a workout is debatable and I’ve dedicated a whole article on the topic of the different benefits and risks steam rooms offer to their users. As a whole, anything that heats up your body will ultimately increase your blood flow to your muscles and temporarily relieve any muscle soreness. Whether or not that will benefit your muscle ache in the next few days is debatable and some sports doctors believe that ice is a better long-term solution for a post-workout treatment.
Click here to check out some of the best steam shower generators on the market for this year!
When to pick the Sauna
Saunas, especially infrared ones are an all-year-round good choice for anyone looking to reap the benefits of IR therapy. Stove saunas are also good for your cardiovascular system and will allow you to sweat more while maintaining a relatively low core heat. Going into a sauna is a good way to relax your whole body and give a rest to your mind. The wooden atmosphere is welcoming to anyone any time, although the alternate feeling between running in the snow and going into the sauna has always had a certain appeal to people.
If you want to try the infrared sauna experience, I suggest checking out my JNH Lifestyles MG301HGB Sauna review. It is a model that you can get and build into your home and comes with all the bells and whistles of modern IR saunas.
At the end of the day, it is entirely up to you to choose which one you’d use in the spa center but have in mind that sessions longer than 10 minutes are not generally recommended, especially if you’ve been working out before that. You can alternate between both rooms but keep an eye on your vitals and make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated through the whole process. If you have certain heart or kidney conditions, you should generally avoid these procedures, or at least consult your doctor before using them.
I’ve dived deeper into the topic of whether or not saunas are beneficial for your post-workout recovery in a separate article. Click here if you want to check it out!
The sauna vs steam room question has a lot of answers and all of them are directly related to the benefits that you are after. While steam rooms will greatly improve the way your airways feel, saunas will improve your mood and will strengthen your cardiovascular system. Ultimately, it is entirely up to your preferences, as I am well aware that there is an equal number of people that cannot tolerate the dry heat of the sauna, as there are people who dislike the moist humid environment of the steam room. I personally enjoy using them both in the order – sauna, steam room, cold bath. That way I get through a full cycle of refreshment for my body and muscles even if I haven’t worked out prior to that.