It’s time to open the reader mailbag, for this question from A:
The locker room at my gym has a sauna, a steam room, cold plunge and a hot tub. I want to use them, but this will be my first time. What order should I use them? Do I need to be naked or can I wear my sports bra & panties and wrap myself up with a towel? Can I wear slippers inside the sauna or steam room? Can I take a bottle of water with me inside the sauna or steam room?
Don’t stress A. These are a common question that many new sauna users have. The sauna, steam room and tubs are all tools to help you relax. The thing you want to remember is the basic cycle: Heat, Cool, Rest, Repeat.
If you are at the gym to work out, do that first, then use these features. The heat of the baths will help ease your muscles after your workout, and your sweat will help rid your body of metabolic wastes that could otherwise accumulate in your joints.
What to wear
Before you get started on your heat bath regimen, you should to take a few steps to prepare.
The sauna is a place of relaxation and introspection, so you want to change out of your other “uniforms,” like your workout clothes or street clothes, even your underwear into something that is a dedicated sauna “uniform.” Having your own uniform should put you into the right mindset, and allow your body to sweat freely.
We believe that enjoying a the baths naked is best, but you can also wear a towel, swimsuit or loose-fitting shorts and t-shirt depending on your personal preferences (and the policy of your sauna facility). One thing to keep in mind is that high temperatures and body oils can combine to take the color and stretchiness out of elastic fibers. If you are going to wear a swimsuit, wear an older one.
Before you enter a sauna, steam room or hot tub, you need to take a shower to clean your skin of any chemicals, dirt, oils, antiperspirants, perfumes and makeup that are on your skin or trapped in your hair. In a pool, you’ll be leaving everything on your skin in the water as what the hot tub industry refers to as “body film.” Yuck. In the heat of the sauna, scents on your skin can negatively affect other people’s’ experiences and contaminants on your skin can travel into your bloodstream via your sweat. Double yuck.
In Asia, the cleansing of your body before you sauna or soak in a tub is a ritual that cleanses your mind of stresses before you enter the hot bath. Keep this in mind as you shower. Don’t forget if you are wearing a swimsuit or other outfit to take it off while you shower.
This is most important if you are going to use the sauna or steam room. Water acts as a very good insulator. If you leave a film of water on your body, it is going to slow down how quickly you heat up and really start to sweat.
Now is the time to apply heat: This the purpose of the saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. Which one you choose first is up to you. We like to start with the dry sauna on our first round, and move to the more humid baths as we spend our time there. You may like it better the other way around.
Choose your first bath and get comfortable. In the sauna or steam room, the upper benches are hotter than the lower benches. Many people find that lying down on the bench heats their body more evenly than sitting on the bench. However, for yourself and others, sit or lie on a towel. If you wore slippers or sandals into the sauna, you should leave them on the floor. This will keep them cool, and prevent you from transferring anything that was on the floor to the benches.
You can definitely bring in a water bottle with you into the steam room or even place it next to the hot tub. If the temperature is mild, you might want to stay in for a long time, and in the sauna you can always splash some of the water onto the rocks to make what the Finns call löyly to enhance the experience.
As you sit in the heat, you will feel the heat of your body rising, then you should break out into a full body sweat. Try to stay in the room until this happens. Most people find it takes about 5-20 minutes before this happens, but there are far too many things that can influence this to make any hard and fast rules.
When you have had enough or if you aren’t comfortable, listen to your body and leave. If you have lain down, allow a minute or so for your blood pressure to equalize before you stand up.
When you leave the heat, you should feel that warmth throughout your body, your heart pounding like you just sprinted a mile and have sweat pouring out of your skin. Now you need to cool down to get that excess heat out of your body.
You can cool down rapidly by jumping into a cold pool, taking a cold shower, rolling in the snow, or even jumping through a hole in the ice. This has the effect on your body like a blacksmith dunking a hot horseshoe into water: It hardens you sending your circulatory system into overdrive.
If that sounds too harsh or you have any health risks, you can also cool down more gently by taking a warm shower, going for a dip in the pool or even wrapping yourself in a blanket, towel or robe and letting the heat slowly come out of you.
You can cool down the same way every time, or mix it up. It is your choice.
After you cool down, your body needs some time for its temperature to equalize and for your pulse rate and blood pressure to come back to normal, especially if you used one of the more extreme methods to cool down. Use this time to drink some water, get a massage or body scrub, or just sit and think happy thoughts. Hopefully, your gym has a lounge area where you can sit.
One trip through the heat baths is never enough. Most people recommend two to three rounds. The cycling of your body through the heat and cold is an exercise for your skin and circulatory system. Just remember to cool down and rest and stay hydrated before you start your next round.
Finnish and Russians folklore both say that if you take more than three rounds, the spirits of the sauna will become upset with you. If you are superstitious, keep this in mind.
When you have had your fill, you should leave at the end of the rest phase. Let your body finish cooling down and let your sweating stop. Some people like to take a full shower with soap and shampoo to help them finish cooling down and get ready to return to society. Others believe in just a quick rinse as the oils your body releases into your skin and hair are better than any lotion or conditioner.
If you were wearing a swimsuit or clothing any, you should give it a good rinse at this point and wring the water out of it before putting it away. When you get home, hang it up and let it air dry. This is enough to keep it clean. If you feel you need to wash it, use some vinegar or a baby detergent, as the foaming agents, scents and fabric conditioners in most detergents will come out the next time you bathe.
As you get dressed again, you’ll feel the pressures of everyday life returning to you. Hopefully, the time you spent will help you better face what remains of the day, or help you get a good night’s sleep that night.