Sauna for Marathon Recovery

Summary: As preparation for my first Marathon I went through a heavy training routine. Running 50km’s a week, it is important to focus on your recovery. After experimenting with Cryotherapy, I am now diving into the ancient methods started by the Fins: Sauna.

Sauna and Steam after running

The day after a marathon can seem like you’re learning to walk for the first time: lack of coordination, short steps and it is impossible to go up a flight of stairs. That’s at least how I felt after finishing a my half-marathons this summer. In the past I didn’t really pay attention when it came to recovery. The only focus points were my nutrition where I focussed on food with high protein numbers like Egg’s, Yoghurt or a Whey Protein Shakes, and the addition of Magnesium Capsules. After experimenting with cryotheraphy last summer and paying more attention to my sleep cycles, it hit me: “When you recovery properly, your fitness level goes up”

For some of you this might be, the most normal thing in the world, but for me it was totally new. After doing some research I found out that it is scientifically proven that muscles recover better after exercise if they are exposed to heat, combined with a cold treatment straight after. It turns out that those crazy Fins were right about one thing 😜.  Major advantages for the body indicate:

  • Relaxation of muscles
  • Elimination of toxins
  • Improvement  of blood flow

Like i said, when I was preparing for the Marathon this summer, I went through a heavy running routine.In September and October, over six Sunday’s I clocked 21K, 24K, 26K, 28K 32K and 32K. When the training intensity goes up, my body gave me signals to focus more on recovery. I say that, cause I felt my that legs were getting more sore and I often felt small pains in my muscles while running these longer distances. Knowing that heat exposure is extremely positive after a work-out, I was curious to find out what the effects of Sauna treatment were to my muscles. Fortunately Vabali Berlin, was so kind to introduce me to this magic ritual. They showed me around in their beautiful complex and told me everything there is to learn when it comes to this Nordic tradition.

How does Sauna and Steam room work?

Before we dive into the details, let’s start with the basic’s how it all works. Probably best is to start with explaining what a Sauna and a Steam room is… Both are heated facilities and serve the purpose of relaxation as well as offering various health benefits. You can find saunas and steam rooms in bath houses, swimming pools, gyms, and health clubs as well as a free standing service. If you absolutely love steam and sauna, (like I do!) and you have enough space at home, you might consider getting your own little cabin in the garden shed.

Both, saunas and steam rooms are designed to operate at high temperatures, while sauna offers a very hot, dry air where the temperature can rise up to 100-120 Celsius, the steam works with lots of moisture and lower temperatures. Which options you choose is entirely up to you. Some like the dry heat and some tolerate the wet heat in the steam room much better.

In general the Sauna is better for lowering your blood pressure and relaxing your muscles, while the steam helps with detoxing your body. There isn’t one single solution, you can alternate them as well. What they have in common are the wonderful benefits. Both facilities help to open your pores, increase overall blood circulation, and not only make you feel better but also you will look better when commuting to regular sessions.

Steam & Sauna benefits


The dry heat helps to reduce your blood pressure, elevate your heart beat (the healthy way), dilate your blood vessels and encourage a stronger flow of blood to the skin. Of all the benefits my favorites are that it helps with sleeping issues, increases the metabolic process and helps to reduce joint paint. I use a loofa right after a session in the sauna (or even between of cold shower sessions) to remove dead skin cells and sort of scrub my skin fresh. To avoid drying your hair with the dry heat, I also suggest using hair masks (or even face masks if you can get away with it) because the hot air helps the nutritions deeper in to your skin.

Steam Room

The wet heat is most beneficial for people who firstly cannot tolerate the high heat of the sauna but want to experience it. It is also very helpful for people struggling with bronchitis, common cold or even asthma. I like to use essential oils (just a few drops) to help to open my sinus even more so.

Cold Showers

It is an extremely refreshing thing to do to alternate your time in the sauna and under the stream of cold water. Depending on your tolerance to heat, you can divide up your sauna time to 2-3 slots and between these sessions take a short, cold shower. These showers will help you to cool down and ensure that you don’t get dizzy o overheated.


benefits of regularly using sauna & steam

10 Benefits of regularly using the Sauna or Steam room

  1. Overall detoxification of your body: 15-20 minutes in the sauna will help to remove toxins and waste from your body through sweating.
  2. Reduced stress & tension: The heat soothes the nerve endings and helps to relax tense or overworked muscles. It also helps to release endorphins in your body hence making you feel happier.
  3. Increased metabolism and weight loss: if you regularly visit a sauna or steam room, the heat and sweating can support your weight loss by removing water retained by your body.
  4. Clearer and brighter skin: the heat helps to eliminate toxins and impurities from your skin. It is also beneficial with certain skin problems and helps to
  5. Improve blood circulation: due to the effect of the heat, your capillaries dilate and the blood flows easier and faster. A higher amount of oxygen gets delivered through your body hence encourages better overall circulation.
  6. Clear sinuses: The heat helps to clear sinuses, aid breathing difficulties and loosen mucus. Check with your doctor first, but if you are in the clear, the use of sauna or steam can reduce the symptoms of common cold.
  7. Helps with post-work out relaxation: It helps to relax your muscles and calms the mind. After a good workout, finish your time at the gym in the sauna and you will guaranteed to feel comfortably tired and happily relaxed.
  8. Increased flexibility: after a good swim, exercise or simply when you feel tired, slowly and carefully stretch your muscles in the heated room. It will help you to loosen up your muscles. The hot air helps you to stretch easier too.
  9. The sauna can also improve your running performance. For example, it helps the body acclimatise to heat, ideal for preparing a race in hot weather conditions.
  10. Finally, it reinforces the heart which beats faster when the body is hot: ideal for cardio development!

How much is too much?

Having said that the regular use of sauna and steam room are extremely beneficial to your health, it is also important to emphasize that you should not be overdoing it. Try to keep your sessions around 20 minutes or less and drink plenty of water before your session and after you’ve finished. Too long time spent in the heat might cause dehydration, headaches, dizziness and a funky (too fast) heartbeat. For beginners I suggest to start it with 3 minutes and if all feels well, after a cold shower return for another 2 minutes. You can build up your tolerance of heat little by little. It doesn’t worth to push it too hard, sauna and steam should be a great way to relax, or perhaps have a good chat with fellow heat enthusiasts.

On a last note, try to go to sauna or steam room regularly but don’t over do it. Twice is week is plenty! It is enough to reap the amazing benefits of each of the two can offer to you, while you don’t get dehydrated or under energised. If you have any given condition, or taking medication, make sure to check with your doctor before you start using sauna and steam.

Sauna for Marathon Recovery

Vabali hosts more than 10+ different sauna’s, pool and cold bath’s

The Sauna Oasis that is called Vabali

Let’s get back to the Sauna action! Situated in a lush 20.000 sqm green estate in the middle Berlin, Vabali Spa offers you a place of rest and relaxation. Arriving by bike, you would never every expect an oasis like that in the middle of Berlin in a residential area next to a football pitch. However once you check in, and swap your daily wear for your robe and your slippers you feel like you are in heaven. This was my first trip to a Spa and I was a bit nervous about it being German and textile free. Luckily the receptionist at the entrance did a splendid job explaining everything to me as a spa newbie, and told me about the rules and regulations of this magical place.

There are more than 10+ different sauna’s, pool and cold bath’s, expertly designed to bring relaxation after a busy working day, or in my case the half marathon in Minsk. When I was there it was a very sunny day, so I was able to enjoy the whole outdoor area. The spa is enormous so it takes a lot of time to discover all the hidden treasures. After checking out the spacious sauna area with soothing salt, honey, and fruit aromatherapies, I jumped into the numerous pools and relaxation areas.

The facilities are excellent and have a great Balinese charm to it, while the staff – from reception to restaurant – were friendly and welcoming. At first I was thinking to spend 2 hours in this stunning facility, however after my sauna treatment in the morning and my healthy omelet with smoked salmon, I decided to treat myself to a sportmassage in the afternoon. My legs were in a terrible state after the marathon and the Professional Massage Therapists found all the knots and tension points. Having had massages all around the world, over many years, this was definitely one of the better ones.

Personal Sauna Schedule

In the afternoon I had some more time to explore some of the sauna’s and the staff gave me the advice to drink lots of fluids before entering the sauna. Once in, they told me to try and not stay longer than 15 minutes per session. My ideal patterns during the days was:

  1. 10 Mins of Hydration (water, preferably coconut-water)
  2. 1 min Cold Shower
  3. 15 min Sauna
  4. 1 mind Cold Shower
  5. Chill 5 mins with book while drinking water
  6. 15 min Sauna
  7. 1 min Cold Shower
  8. Chill 15 mins with book in the sun
  9. 15 min Sauna
  10. 1 min Cold Shower
  11. Eat Sleep Rave* Repeat

* (Jokes, we only Rave in the weekends in Berlin)

Sauna for Marathon Recovery

Vabali’s Oasis in the middle of Berlin

There were at least twelve saunas of all different sizes – including one were there was an infusion every half hour. My favourite was an green tea infusion one but I also went to one involving mint leaves. I chilled for the most part of the day, and was lucky to sign up for the the free mud treatment that happens every afternoon. During this special ceremony you cover yourself completely with mud, while enjoying a cup of tea and rinsing it off in a steam cabin. My skin never felt so soft in my life!

Conclusion: Sauna Kicks Ass!

To conclude Vabali really is a stunning facility: it’s spacious; beautifully decorated and set in a lovely estate. Being the ADHD lunatic that I am, I could never understand why some of my girl friends said that they woud spend the whole weekend in a spa resort. Eight hours later I left the premise completely de-stressed, feeling there was still so much to do. In short, sauna is great for post marathon recovery and  Vabali is splendid if you are here for a weekend. I will definitely make my visits to Vabali a monthly activity while living in Berlin.