Rest, Recovery and Regeneration: Part II

Welcome back!
Let’s start with the steam room. Some people prefer the dry heat of the sauna, I prefer the moisutre and humidity of the steam room. Some tips to keep in mind when using a steam room;
1) Drink water before, during and after.
Pre-hydration will help you to get the most out of this experience. Although you are in a humid environment your body does not take the water from the atmosphere in. Imbibing water while usage of saunas and steam rooms has been a tradition in many cultures. It is thought to help witht he flushing/detoxification and to prevent or minimize the effects of dehydration.
2) Dress appropriately. Swimsuit or au-natural? This depends on two things; the first is if the steam room is co-ed and the second your comfort level around other people when naked.
Dr. Phil may need to help you work through your feelings if you find yourself naked in a co-ed steam room when everyone else has their suits on!
3) Ease into it. If you are not accustomed to the moist heat, then start with less than five minutes and work up from there. Just think of what happened to Rick in Hall Pass when he over did it in the hot tub!
4) Check the temp. Be careful if the steam room is cranking over 212 degrees. You could get scalded like a steamed weenie!
So what do steam rooms technically do for you? “As heat from the steam penetrates deep into the skin, the body reacts in an effort to cool itself by activating the hormonal and nervous systems to dilate (widen) the blood vessels. This dilation increases blood flow and directs more blood closer to the surface of the skin. Increased blood flow to the muscles brings an increase of oxygen and nutrients needed for the muscles to heal and work properly.”-Chris Sherwood. 
Over two thousand years ago the Greek physician Parmenides was credited with saying “Give me an opportunity to create fever and I will cure any illness.” A fever will stimulate the immune system and stunt the growth of bacteria and virus. For example at 104 degrees farenheit the polio virus is reduced up to 250 times and at 106 degrees pneumococcus dies. Now a good steam will not rid you of pneumonia or polio, but it can speed up the production of interferon , a powerful anti-viral protein. The flip side of this is that gunk like athletes foot can grow in moist wet enviornments and you may want to wear flip-flops and sit on a towel.*note that I have been using steam rooms for years and have yet to pick up anything from one*
Another benefit is if you are experiencing respiratory issues such as bronchitis, asthma, or allergies the warm moisture in a steam room may clear allergens and mucus from the respiratory system as well as calm down inflammed respiratory pathways.
There is a quote about exercise and physical exersion by Dr. George Sheehan “Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from a place a shower will never reach.” Now the steam room is not a replacement for exercise by any means, but it sure can feel like a workout. You come out a little sweaty, the moist environment probably makes you feel like you are sweating more than you are, your pores are open, you might be breathing a little heavy, you are rleaxed and clear headed when you get out. In some circles the steam room is a stop on the “executive workout” circuit.
Anecdotally I see most people using the steam room to finish off their workouts. One guy I know calls it the “pleasure after the pain.” A disadvantage of going for a steam after a workout is a potential disruption in your nutritional recovery strategy. For example if you slurp down a post workout recovery shake before a steam session then the heat could draw the blood away from the stomach and intestines in an effort to regulate body temperature and impair the digestion process. There is an easy solve for this, wait until you are out of the steam room before you have your BCAAs.
I use the steam room primarily pre-workout. I feel like this makes any flexibility technique more effective. The fascial system as a whole softens and “breathes” as well. The skin is also an organ and by helping it to “breathe” we may improve our mobility, movement and overall performance. As the body tries to cool itself it will export heat from the lungs with our breathe and through pores via sweat especially. Most people are stuffed inside of some sort of professional clothing (don’t even get me stated on shoes) all day and not moving much so their skin, as an organ but proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors too, are deadened. Waking up these aspects of the human movement system could help us be more responsive earlier on in the workout. I know that I feel more “warmed-up”/ready for any type of workout if I have steamed first, including cardio with the vasodilation that occurs. I can get into my HR zones quicker and easier.
So I’m supposed to be focussing on rest, recovery and regeneration…I know. I see the steam room fitting well into the recovery and regenration phases. Taking a steam immediately following a workout can help to flush the body of waste products and help to temporarily lower blood pressure. Here are my top three benefits of a steam bath in regards to regeneration:
1) It can promote a sense of relaxation
2) It can provide a reduction of muscular tension
3) It can boost the immune system
I would be remiss if I did not provide a few cautionary tidbits.
People who are pregnant, have heart disease, high or very low blood pressure (or who are taking any medication that affects blood pressure), epilepsy, are taking antibiotics, using any type of mind-altering drug (like stimulants, tranquilizers, alcohol) shouldn’t use steam rooms. People under the age of 16 do not regulate temperature as well as adults and therefore should probably avoid steam rooms unless precautions are taken. Feel free to check with an individual’s primary healtcare provider if there are any questions whether a steam room is right for them or not.
Some other tips; shower first to clean the pores, drink plenty of water before duriong and after as I have already mentioned, stay in for a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the temperature and intensity of the steam), try some electrolye supplementation before or after, don’t eat a large meal just before or just after. One last word on fluid loss, sweat glands can secrete up to 30 grams of sweat per minute which is approximately one pint per every 15 minutes so the risk of dehydration is very real in a steam room. Fatigue and other indications of dehydration can occur with as little as 1 to 2% loss in body weight. This is what accounts for the deceptive and short lived weight loss assocaited with a g steam.
That’ll do ‘er for me. I’ll be back wit Part III soon, thanks for reading!
Eric Beard
Corrective Exercise Specialist
Integrated Manual Therapist
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