A case against Sauna Suits

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a young trainer that is currently undergoing internship hours before sitting for her certified personal trainers examination.

Having the opportunity to shadow several different trainers provides insights into a variety of methods,opinions and thought processes from which she can select things that she likes, adapt to her own methods or cause her to re-examine her own methods.

Furthermore, this helps establish a professional network and given the right pairings can set the table for fruitful relationships.

It also exposes the fact that some trainers could be defined as incompetent or even outright potentially dangerous.

During my e-mail exchanges with the young lady I found out that she recently encountered a trainer that has his clients workout in sauna suits under their sweats in order to lose weight and is seemingly proud of this fact.

Somewhere is this mans mind the sauna suit is a good way to lose weight.

While there is information on the potential benefits of hyperthermic training, I would argue that the cost to benefit ratio is too lopsided and that the degree of control and supervision required places too many trainers out of their depth.

The use of sauna suits for weight loss purposes is beneficial for a short duration. Athletes that compete in sports with weight categories (I.E. Boxers, Wrestlers, MMA Fighters), models/performers getting ready for a part and pre-contest bodybuilder/physique competitors cutting the last bits of water are the only particular clients I can fathom having the need to use a sauna suit.

Based on personal experience on both sides of the fence of having (1) succumbed to heat exhaustion and (2) having to recover a person that over-heated in a sauna suit I cannot recommend the use of sauna suits for any purpose OTHER than those stated in the previous paragraph, of which should be critically monitored.

My opinion is well backed by multiple sources. I found a topic that all notable authorities (for now) seem to agree upon. Having reviewed several college sized training manuals I could find no single recommendation advising clients to train in a sauna suit and quite a few that advise against it, if not to proceed with caution.

The Certified Personal Trainer manuals published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) do not support its use. These are 4/5 of the largest authorities in personal training with the research from NSCA and ACSM serving largely as the basis for nearly all other certification. I believe I can reasonably speculate the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) would say the same thing.

Going a few steps further (because I’m that type of guy) I spent a little quality time with more specialized material. Specifically the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F), NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), Training for Warriors Level 1 (TFW-L1), CrossFit Level 1 Trainer (CF-L1), U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), U.S. Department of Defense and the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) materials.

NATA, NSCA CSCS and NASM PES are credentials seen in trainers that can train up to professional level athletes.

TFW was born in the world of preparing mixed martial art fighters for fights and has evolved into training athletes of any background.

NSCA TSAC-F was designed to develop fitness programs for first responders (Police, Firefighters,Military.)

Naval Special Warfare Command oversees the training of the U.S. Navy SEALs along with Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Special Warfare combatant craft and Diver programs.

CrossFit is known for causing bodies to hit the floor and many first responders, athletes and military personnel train at CrossFit locations.

None of the above recommend the use of sauna suits.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stated in his massive encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding (which I swear causes me to get bigger just by carrying around) that the suits purpose is solely for short term water cutting.

During a six mile ocean swim Navy SEAL candidates can lose up to 10 pounds of body weight due to fluid and glycogen loss. The loss is not permanent, they re-gain their weight once they start re-hydrating and refueling. Remember, these are SEAL candidates who have far higher than average physical fitness profiles.  They are also highly monitored throughout their training with instructors and advanced medical staff on standby during their training evolutions.

On the training side, there are five physiological mechanism of fatigue that I am concerned with during a session: Depletion of the Energy systems, inadequacy of the circulatory and respiratory systems, body temperature elevation, neurological insufficiency and dehydration. I run tremendous risks if I let things go to far, one failure out of five is more than enough to cause concern.

The sauna suit causes an increase in perspiration during exercise and only marginally increases the total number of calories burned. The increased perspiration leads to faster water and electrolyte loss and decreased work capacity. As work capacity drops, fine motor and gross movement patterns begin to falter which brings a host of problems.

This guy is attempting to bring the client to the fatigue point of all five. This much I know. Unfortunately there is far more that I don’t know…

I don’t know if he is monitoring the clients water loss during training. A loss of 2% of body weight during exercise is cause for action and results in decreased levels of performance.

I don’t if he informed the clients that the water weight loss is temporary or even the fact they are losing water weight, not body fat.

I don’t know if he is advising the re-hydration needs post sauna suit training. The increased amount of perspiration will require replenishment of potassium, zinc,sodium and carbohydrates along with water. We can lose up to 2 liters of water per hour of exercise yet we can only absorb roughly 1 liter per hour. I don’t know if he knows that or is coaching his client to do such.

I don’t know if he knows that certain medications and medical conditions decrease heat and exercise tolerance or alter a clients thermoregulation.

I don’t know if he knows what heat exhaustion or heat stroke looks like, much less the first aid procedures to treat either.

I don’t know if he even asked if the client has had a history of heat exhaustion, which subsequently leads to succumbing to heat exhaustion easier. Additionally, if the client is obese their ability to handle hyperthermia is compromised. Since his purpose for the sauna suit is “weight loss” (which as stated is temporary water loss, not permanent fat loss) and the fact that a high proportion of obese clients are on some form of medication he is taking a huge risk in the misguided attempt to help someone lose weight.


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