Heat stress training: A Potential Advantage for Strength Athletes
Over many decades of strength training I have concluded that for drug free lifters the only thing that produces results is consistent training with weights. Proper diet and basic supplements along with solid workouts are the only things that produce results.
However, all of us keep looking for something that can tweak our performance upward even a small amount.
I came across some research being done at the University of Oregon thermoregulation lab that has the potential to be one of those things that can move the strength needle a small amount in the desired direction.
Although the focus of the research is on helping elite runners, IMHO the findings can also be of benefit to strength athletes.
The focus of the U of O research is on using heat adaptation to train athletes. Recent research has shown that heat stressed muscles will aid in expanding the volume of blood plasma and build strength in the circulatory system to resist major stress.
Heat can also enhance mitochondrial function and thus enable the muscles to produce more ATP. This is the chemical needed for muscular contraction.
The major driver for promoting mitochondrial function is exercise. But according to recent research people who exercise can gain a small additional benefit by using heat stress training.
At the moment, the principal focus of heat stress therapy is for people who are unable to exercise, such as heart attack or accident victims. It has become evident that heat stress can help people who are forced to be sedentary maintain muscle mass that would otherwise atrophy.
What would be involved for powerlifters (or other strength athletes) to use heat stress training?
Much easier than you think.
Simply using the sauna after a workout.
However, there is a catch. You must treat the sauna time as if it were part of your conditioning, not just an opportunity to get a little warm before taking a shower.
IMHO the optimal procedure is to gradually work up the time you spend in the sauna from 5 minutes to the point where you can easily do 15 minutes without feeling like you are being sauteed. Probably anything beyond 15 minutes has declining value.
The practical benefits of this practice are that you will recover from a heavy workout more rapidly than you do at present, and you lay the biological foundation for doing heavier training.
Over time you will be forcing your body to generate heat shock proteins, flush toxins through sweating and expand your blood plasma volume. Your sauna time can build a little extra physical capability on top of that you build in the workout.
Ill conclude with some of my personal experiences that lead me to believe the value of heat adaption goes way beyond removing toxins.
Over the past several decades I have been both a runner and a weightlifter. I have always run outside in the weather whatever it happened to be. For roughly a decade I lived in the southern US and always ran in the legendary southern summer. I found that rather than making me feel worn out, I quickly recovered and felt strong and rested.
Since moving to the Pacific Northwest I have always enjoyed the sauna whenever I trained at a gym where one was available. Again, I believe that the heat exposure left me stronger rather than drained.
Building and maintaining strength involves not just the big things (workout and nutrition) but a set of less obvious things that enable us to get the most out of our hard work.
IMHO using head stress as part of your program is one of the things that require minimal effort for potentially a solid return.