Sauna suits are becoming more and more popular in the fitness industry. They were popularized by athletes who train for boxing and are often used to enhance sweating, but there are various preconceptions by the vast majority of sauna suit users.
But do sauna suits offer any benefits? The main benefits of sauna suits are that they can contribute to short-term weight loss through enhanced sweating, improve cardiovascular fitness, and improve heat acclimation for athletes.
In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of sauna suits and who should and should not wear them. I will also provide health and safety precautions for wearing a sauna suit.
What is a Sauna Suit?
A sauna suit is a garment that is worn during exercise to make you sweat more. Sauna suits are made from waterproof and airtight materials such as neoprene, nylon, or PVC. They work by trapping your body heat and making you sweat.
Sauna suits, or Swedish sauna suits as they were originally called, were first invented in the 1960s as a tool for weight loss. They are used by boxers and wrestlers to increase sweating and lose water weight quickly, which helps them make weight for their fights.
Sauna suits have become increasingly popular in recent years with various martial arts training.
7 Sauna Suit Benefits
There is not a large body of research that discusses sauna suits and their effects and benefits. The studies that have been done on them are also small.
Based on the research that does exist, here are 7 benefits of using a sauna suit:
- Increase short-term weight loss
- Make weight for sporting competitions
- Increase cardiorespiratory fitness
- Increase cardiovascular health
- Improve adaptation to training in the heat
- Make warm-ups more efficient
- Improve heat retention in cold weather
1. Increase Short-Term Water Weight Loss
Using a sauna suit can help with short-term weight loss through increased perspiration, i.e., sweating. Normally, when you are warm, you sweat to cool down as the sweat on your skin evaporates.
Since you are insulated in a sauna suit in a material that will not let the sweat evaporate, your body's surface temperature decreases. This means your body will work harder to cool itself by sweating more.
This ultimately leads to an increase in the rate of sweating during the exercise you are doing in the sauna suit.
2. Make Weight for Sporting Competitions
If you are a powerlifter, martial arts athlete, or another athlete that requires managing your body weight for a competition to qualify for a certain weight class, you may benefit from using a sauna suit. The sauna suit will rapidly raise your body temperature and get you sweating quickly.
When using the sauna suit, you may choose to perform a brisk walk depending on how much time you have or perform a slightly more rigorous physical activity such as jogging.
However, you may want to consider the risk-benefit comparison as you do not want to fully fatigue from exercising too rigorously.
For the example of a powerlifting competition, you may have up to 2 hours or 24 hours to weigh in, depending on the federation you compete in. A sauna suit would be more appropriate for trying to make weight in a 2-hour weigh-in.
After weighing in, it is very important that you rehydrate with the appropriate fluids and/or electrolyte solution to get your hydration levels back to a healthy state.
Another method of losing weight to make weight for a powerlifting competition is to do a water cut.
3. Increase Cardiorespiratory Fitness
A randomized, controlled trial published in 2017 showed that exercising in a sauna suit significantly improved VO2 max. VO2 max measures the amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise and is often used to define cardiorespiratory fitness. The greater your VO2 max, the fitter you are.
Suppose a sauna suit can bring about greater rates of improvements in your cardiorespiratory fitness. In that case, it may have potential benefits in helping you reach a weight loss goal by improving your body’s ability to burn more calories in a shorter time, although the research behind this is still lacking.
Weight loss also comes largely down to diet. We provide a complete guide on how to cut weight for powerlifting, but many of the principles discussed in that guide can also apply to non-powerlifters.
4. Increase Cardiovascular Health
A proof of concept study in 2016 demonstrated that it is feasible to perform regular moderate-intensity exercise to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce numerous cardiovascular disease risk factors. The 12 participants also found improvements in their body fat percentage, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
However, the problem with this study is that it did not compare the effects of performing the same exercise program with another group that did not wear a sauna suit, so it’s hard to say how much different the sauna group’s results were from the other group’s.
If you’re a powerlifter looking for the best cardio exercises to do, check out 10 Best Cardio For Powerlifters (Science-Backed).
5. Improve Adaptation to Training in the Heat
Some research shows that training in a sauna suit can be a useful way of preparing for training in the heat. The cuffs by the wrists, ankles, neck, and hips help seal the air inside of the sauna suit, which aids in building the heat up inside.
A study in 2018 showed that a sauna suit is effective at improving your body’s ability to adapt to training in the heat but is not as effective as training in hot weather conditions. But a sauna suit may be a useful option if you are preparing to perform physical activity in hot weather and live in cold conditions.
6. Make Warm-Ups More Efficient
Using a sauna suit in training can also make warm-ups more efficient by helping you elevate your body temperature quicker. When your body temperature increases, the output of your muscles also increases.
Your muscles can also feel less stiff when your body is warmer, improving your mobility and getting you ready for your main workout.
7. Improve Heat Retention in Cold Weather
As the sauna suit is designed to reduce heat dissipation, it can be a useful tool to help you retain heat in cold weather. Whether you perform weight or endurance training, the sauna suit can be suitable for both.
If you are performing weight training, you may want to consider the flexibility of the sauna suit so as not to rip it. Look for fabrics like spandex, which has more elasticity than other fabrics. It may also be worth looking at the product description as well as people’s reviews on the sauna suits to determine if it’s good for weight training.
3 Drawbacks and Risks of Wearing a Sauna Suit
Sauna suits are far from benign pieces of fitness equipment. As with most exercise equipment, there are risks and drawbacks. All of these drawbacks are incredibly harmful to your health and can prove fatal if sauna suits are misused.
Here are 3 drawbacks and risks of wearing a sauna suit:
- Can cause severe dehydration
- Can cause hyperthermia
- Can cause hyponatremia
1. Can Cause Severe Dehydration
Using a sauna suit will rapidly increase the rate at which you sweat, but this can lead to dehydration quickly. Severe dehydration can set in if you use the sauna suit for too long (over an hour) or in hot weather if you do not rehydrate when the time comes.
Symptoms of severe dehydration can include:
- Low concentration
- Dark colored urine
- Low urine output
- Heart palpitations
- Low blood pressure
- Altered mental state
2. Can Cause Hyponatremia
When you sweat quickly, you will not only lose a lot of fluid, but you can also lose a lot of electrolytes, including sodium. Losing too much sodium is referred to as hyponatremia.
Symptoms of hyponatremia include:
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Physical weakness
- Fatigue or low energy
3. Can Cause Hyperthermia
The sauna suit insulates the heat quite considerably. When used in conjunction with exercise, it can potentially cause hyperthermia when your body gets too hot.
Hyperthermia can come in different stages with different levels of severity. It also eclipses the same symptoms of dehydration and hyponatremia:
- Heat stress – starts when you are unable to cool down through sweating
- Heat fatigue – occurs during longer durations in high heat, and you may notice a strain on your wellbeing
- Heat syncope – occurs when blood pressure drops, and you may faint or feel faint
- Heat cramp – occurs when your muscles uncontrollably contract
- Heat edema – occurs when your hands, legs, ankles, etc., start to swell
- Heat rash – a rash develops on your skin during prolonged durations in sweat-soaked clothing
- Heat exhaustion – when this occurs, it is a serious stage of hyperthermia and may require medical assistance
Who Should Wear a Sauna Suit?
As you may be able to tell, sauna suits are not for everyone, but they can be incredibly useful for specific people with a certain goal. Here is who should wear sauna suits:
Strength Athletes Looking to Make Weight
If you are an Olympic weightlifter or powerlifter who is looking to lose water weight in the short term, you may find that the sauna suit will add that enhancement of water weight loss to make weight.
Not sure which weight class you should compete in for powerlifting? Check out How To Pick Your Weight Class for Powerlifting (4 Ways).
Martial Arts Athletes Looking to Make Weight
Whether you are a boxer or mixed martial arts competitor, you may also benefit from using a sauna suit to make weight for your competition.
Experienced Exercisers Looking to Improve Fitness
If you are an advanced exerciser looking to add an extra condition to enhance your improvements in your cardiorespiratory fitness, a sauna suit can help.
Experienced Exercisers Looking to Prepare for Performance in a Hot Climate
If you do not have other means to replicate a hot climate, you can use a sauna suit to prepare for any physical event that is in a hotter climate than where you are based.
Who Should Not Wear a Sauna Suit?
Here is a list of individuals who should not wear a sauna suit:
If you are a novice exerciser, a sauna suit may not be appropriate for you. Your ability to deal with and adapt to heat may not be as well developed as an advanced exerciser.
Those Who Struggle With Exercising in the Heat
If you generally do not feel well when exercising in the heat, using a sauna suit will not be appropriate as it can exacerbate how hot you feel when exercising.
Those Who Do Not Have Immediate Access to Water
If you know you are about to perform a long-duration exercise and think you may risk running out of water early on, you should not use a sauna suit.
Sauna Suit Recommendation
I highly recommend the Hagler Sauna Suit 2.0 by Boxraw, as this is one I have tried and tested myself. This is the second version of this model and has been upgraded from the original version.
One thing this product does better than others I have tried is that the cuffs around the neck and wrists are more comfortable. I ended up getting skin irritation from previous ones. With the velcro on the Hagler Sauna Suit 2.0, you can seal off your forearms effectively.
The other thing I was impressed by is how quickly you can start to feel yourself sweat. I immediately started feeling moisture in my calves within the first two minutes of putting it on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Sauna Suits Good for Losing Fat?
There is some mild evidence to support the idea that sauna suits can be good for losing fat. But it is important to know that the extra weight you lose immediately after training in a sauna suit is not necessarily coming from body fat but is largely water loss.
How Long Should You Wear a Sauna Suit?
You should not use a sauna suit for more than 1 hour. You should take the sauna suit off if you experience any symptoms of dehydration, hyponatremia, or hyperthermia. Symptoms may include dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dry mouth, and feeling thirsty.
How Many Times a Week Should You Use a Sauna Suit?
Depending on how experienced you are, you should attempt to use the sauna suit once a week to see how you feel training in it. After 2 to 3 months, you may test out using it twice a week and see how you get on.
It is entirely possible to train with a sauna suit 3 times a week, but it depends on how hard your sessions are and whether you allow yourself to hydrate in those sessions.
Can a Sauna Suit Help You Lose Belly Fat?
The sauna suit can indirectly help you lose belly fat by enhancing your cardiorespiratory fitness. By improving your rate of gains in your fitness, you may find that you can burn off more calories in less time, which can boost your weight loss efforts.
Are Sauna Suits Worth It?
Sauna suits are absolutely worth it only if it is relevant to your training goals and if you use them sensibly, responsibly, and with caution. This includes rehydrating properly with water and/or electrolytes after exercising in one, not wearing one for longer than an hour at a time, and only wearing one 1-3 days per week.
It is also important to understand that although there is some research to show benefits, the body of research is not huge.
Additional Sauna Suit Resources
- Are Sauna Suits Good For Losing Fat? What the Science Says
- Sauna Suit Results (Here’s How Much Weight I Lost)
- How To Wash a Sauna Suit (What NOT To Do)
- 7 Best Sauna Suits (Tried & Tested)
- How To Use a Sauna Suit To Cut Weight (Step By Step)
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com