Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I said It's Gettin' Hot in Here... So Take Off All Your Clothes

A recent Facebook Status Post by a fellow female ultrarunner got me thinking.  Her post in brief read: 
You talked about needing to be active in the sauna for 60 minutes. The sauna I go to is 180 F. How in the hell are you active in 180 degrees? I want to pass out after 20 minutes, and then force myself to endure for another 20. But moving would kill me.
This post caught my attention more than others because I had recently been picking other athletes brains about heat training for Western States.  Last year I had used the sauna and did "seated sessions" ranging from 30-60 minutes.  I also did bikram yoga 2 times a week to help my body and mind prepare for what I might encounter on race day.  At times during bikram I felt like I was in an easy bake oven, but it was "tolerable" and I could maintain my sanity for the 1.5 hour class with temperatures ranging between 105-110 degrees.  On the other hand, once I open the door to the sauna I am engulfed by a swell of hot air and once the door closes behind me it is time to bake in the box.  Typically I sit and stretch, but recently I received some advice that I should be moving constantly while baking.  I thought that this would be manageable, but upon first attempt I was quickly aware of reality, it is friggen hot!  A sense of suffocation and burning eyeballs came over me, but being stubborn, and feeling like it would pass, I calmed myself down and continued on moving.  Toe taps, push ups, air squats, whatever would keep me moving.   

I have discovered that is too hot to cry in the sauna, it is too hot for ipods, I've tried magazines and books, but they fall apart and become brittle, heck my pen even melted.  My watch comes inside with me put is placed on the floor by the door where it receives a small draft and even there the temperature on it reads 104, while the wall thermometer reads between 160-180 depending on how long the sauna has been cranked up to full power.  Can these temperatures for a long period while being active be good for an individual fit or not?  People call the cops to report dogs left in cars on hot days, should someone call the police and report that I am doing air squats  and jumping around in the sauna?   

I went to do a little "intellectual" research online about heat acclimatization and was hoping for medical research, scientific studies, etc. but immediately the page was littered with "extreme training ideas".  I want to share a few, but please don't try these!

Idea A: 1. Use a plastic garbage bag (cut the top and two areas for your arms) as the first layer next to your skin and then add additional clothing layers.  2.  Put a wetsuit on and then running shorts, shirts, ski cap and get training!  This is very difficult to start out with, but will provide intensive heat acclimatization.

Idea B: 1. A close fitting thermal layer near the skin. The purpose of this layer is to hold the sweat and keep your skin relatively comfortable. 2. A waterproof layer that traps the sweat in the first thermal layer. 3. An insulation layer, such as fleece that prevents any heat escaping. Because it is trapped between the two waterproof layers, it never becomes wet. 4. A second waterproof or windproof layer that traps the body’s heat in the insulation layer. 5. In addition, wear hat, gloves and ideally a neck warmer or face mask. 6. Begin exercise.  

I do appreciate that the websites warn the reader to consult their doctor before attempting these techniques, I know sharing this with my doctor would probably result with me leaving the office in a straight jacket. 

I don't know the answer to the question of how to safely and effectively heat train.  Maybe for now I will just order a pair of these Electronic Fat Reducing Sauna Pants , that way I can sit on the couch, plug these bad boys in and eat while losing weight, BRILLIANT!


  1. Aliza - here is the article I use to justify just sitting in the sauna:

    It shows that exercising in heat was better than either just exercising in cool temps OR passively sitting in a sauna. However, the chart shows there is essentially no synergistic effect to exercising in the heat over doing both passive heat training AND exercising in cool temps, meaning if you exercise a lot outside the sauna you don't have to do it inside the sauna to get the benefits of heat training. Interesting to note that this article makes 9 days seem the optimum amount of time for heat training. But I am a stubborn ultrarunner who believes more is better so I aim for three weeks! I have monitored time to start sweating, sweat volume, and (very loosely) salt content of my sweat and I have noted them all to change significantly just by sitting there, so I do believe passive training works. Of course, I have to believe all this because there is no f*cking way that I am doing squats in the sauna! :) Happy heat training! -pam

    1. Thanks Pam, very helpful! I went to Bikram today and that seemed like a piece of cake compared to doing squats and push ups in the sauna. I found myself wondering out of the house yesterday with a light down jacket because it was in the 70's, which felt "cool". By the way you aren't the only stubborn ultrarunner. I look forward to seeing you and the family (?) out in CA.


  2. Aliza,

    You are too funny. I love the pants. I can't tell they are orange or just on fire. Regardless, they should come handy during hunting season.

    Best Regards,

    Dave Koon

    1. Dave I would guess that you do a bit of heat training just by being in full uniform doing drills. I cannot imagine wearing all that gear. Next time you come to VT we can run and do some heat training, sounds like fun right?


  3. It is impressive that you can tolerate that kind of harsh training but it is well worth it. But I can't endure it

  4. That's certainly an interesting idea. While I do think that you do get more of the health benefits when you move actively in a sauna, it can be quite hard for most people given the temperature. But if you can train yourself to do it by slowly acclimatizing little by little, more power to you! Seems like you're already doing fine with it anyway, since you can already do push-ups and squats.

    iHealth Saunas