If you've been searching the internet for a way to increase your workout intensity or drop a few extra pounds, you may have come across ads for sauna suits. Retailers that sell these heat-trapping workout clothes claim that the suits can boost the efficacy of exercise and generate more sweat than working out in regular gear. Proponents claim that the extra sweat produces some of the same health benefits as sitting in a traditional sauna.
The idea of donning a sauna suit and getting more benefits from your workout may sound too good to be true. Scientists are still testing the theory to see if it holds up in practice.
What Is a Sauna Suit?
A sauna suit is a workout garment designed to hold in heat. Many suits are made of neoprene and resemble a wet suit. You can get suits that cover the whole body or separates for just the upper or lower body.
When you exercise in a sauna suit, your trap heat around your body and produce more sweat than you would in typical workout gear. Sauna suit makers suggest that the effort of working out in the suit increases the intensity of a workout without having to increase your actual level of effort. The result theoretically would be higher fitness levels and possibly increased weight loss after regular use of a sauna suit.
Sauna Suit Benefits
There is limited research on whether sauna suits produce meaningful benefits. One study confirmed that wearing a sauna suit during exercise does increase physiological strain and leads to higher sweat loss. The study did not reach conclusions about whether that increased strain translates to improved athletic performance.
Another study compared fitness results between groups of participants, some of whom wore sauna suits to exercise and some of whom did not. Both groups engaged in similar exercise routines. At the end of the study, the group that wore the sauna suits showed an 11.7% improvement in VO2 max, or the amount of oxygen their body used when exercising as hard as possible, compared to a 7.3% improvement in the exercise-only group. The sauna suit group also had an average 2.6% reduction in body weight and 13.8% decrease in body fat. The exercise-only group averaged a 0.9% reduction in body weight and an 8.3% decrease in body fat.
Are Sauna Suits Safe?
Any activity that raises your body temperature or leads to excessive sweating can cause heat-related illness. Using a sauna suit without properly replacing lost fluids carries a risk of heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat-related illness include:
- Heavy sweating
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
- Weak, rapid pulse
If you experience these symptoms, remove the sauna suit and stop exercising. Move to a cool place to rest, and let your body cool down. Drink plenty of water or a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes.
Without prompt attention, heat exhaustion can escalate to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
Misleading Info About Sauna Suits
One common claim about products that increase sweat production is that they're good for detoxification. Some wellness trends promote "detoxing" as a way to remove harmful substances from our bodies. This is a misleading notion. The human body automatically removes harmful substances via the kidneys and liver. Sweating is a function that cools the body and isn't part of the excretory system.
Using a sauna suit as a weight loss tool can potentially carry risks. The scientific studies on sauna suits involved using them in combination with physical activity. The use of the suits was limited to defined time periods, and participants were supervised by researchers. Using a sauna suit without guidance from a fitness professional or medical doctor comes with risks of heat-related illness. Talk to your doctor before you add a sauna suit to your fitness regimen.
Should I Wear a Sauna Suit in a Sauna?
Sauna suits are not meant to be worn in saunas, and doing so could lead to overheating. The suits do take their name from saunas, which are chambers that use steam or dry heat to raise your core body temperature as you sit in the space. Some sauna proponents suggest that the heat creates the same physical effects as exercise and provides similar health benefits.
There is limited research supporting the idea of saunas as a replacement for exercise. One study showed that participants who regularly used a sauna lost body fat during the course of the study. Researchers believe that using a sauna to raise core body temperature offers some of the same effects as vigorous exercise. But the study team could not conclusively state that the sauna was the only cause behind participants' weight loss.
Research also shows that regular sessions in saunas can lower blood pressure. Other studies have demonstrated that sauna use correlates with reduced symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Some researchers found that people who use saunas experience improvement in chronic pain. Study participants reported less pain associated with conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
At this time, there is no research on whether sauna suits offer similar health benefits to using traditional saunas. Experts caution that it's wise to use both sauna suits and saunas only for short periods of time. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids while using any device that causes you to sweat significantly.
While there may be benefits to using a sauna suit, there are also risks. Your doctor can help you decide if you should consider adding a sauna suit to your fitness routine.