By JERRY HITCHCOCK
I spent some time in my elementary and junior high years as part of my school’s wrestling teams. One of the least enjoyable parts of that activity was “making weight” at a tournament. Since I had a twin brother and we both wrestled, one of us was probably going to be one of those who unfortunately had to drop down below their normal weight and wrestle in a lighter weight class.
More often than not, I managed to just squeak by at the weigh-in, praying that the scale would balance under whatever weight limit I was destined to enter. On those occasions when I didn’t make weight, I had to resolve the issue in short order. If I was only a pound or two too heavy, the best way to drop weight quick was donning the sauna suit and doing a few laps around whatever school the weigh-in was being held at. Usually after 20 or so minutes, I could remove the suit, dry off and get back on the scale, with a good chance of that unwanted weight vanishing.
While this process tended to zap some strength, if I didn’t wrestle for a couple hours, I usually got back to feeling normal. But I can say for sure, those tourneys I didn’t make weight were my worst performances, which is probably no coincidence at all.
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Sauna suits have been around for decades, with athletes in many disciplines using them to cut weight for various reasons.
Depending on who you ask, they either have their place in fitness routines, or are useless in solving any issues in the long term.
It is true that the majority of weight lost though using a sauna suit is purely water, but other nutrients — most notably electrolytes — can be lost as well, especially if a suit is utilized on a regular basis. However, if you are wearing a suit while doing a workout in a fat-burning range (for most people, anything more than 130 beats per minute), there are some reports that fat burning in theses circumstances is slightly increased.
While many doctors and health advocates say sauna suits should not be the primary tool for weight loss, they can work for people who are well hydrated, as your body tends to sweat considerably, depending on what activity you choose to do while it is on. I can do a 2-hour indoor cycling workout with a suit on, drinking water and electrolytes as I go. Others may run or jog with a suit on for a given distance, and I have seen them used in wrestling-room workouts as well.
Consultation of a doctor is always advisable for any new workout regimen. Sauna suits have been known to product heat stroke in people who wear them without the physical ability to tolerate workouts. Nausea, vomiting or just not feeling well overall are also warning signs that you are working harder than your body can tolerate. Time to back off and reassess.
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Right now is the time of year I’m looking to get down to “fighting weight.” I say fighting weight but in reality, I’m just doing all I can to shed any excess, unnecessarily-present weight so I only have to pedal the needed mass (muscle, bones and vital organ system) in cycling competitions, which begin in April and run through August.
After a period of taking supplements to support my strength training, the period when I attain stronger muscles is followed by the time when I try to get rid of the weight within those muscles as a result of supplements like creatine, which retain water within the muscles.
By ridding the body of that excess weight, I can still retain the added benefit of fit muscle, but at a trimmer, lighter overall body weight. Riding with excess weight proves for most competitors to be one handicap they can’t overcome and still remain competitive. The heavier you are, the harder your body has to work to propel it and your bike forward. If your heart rate is too high, you’ll either become overtaxed quickly, or slow down or probably both.
All that being said, sauna suits are not for everyone who is looking to lose weight. Sure as a tool they have proven to work for me, but scores of others are either skeptical or downright adamant that any short-term weight loss will be gained right back, once the body becomes properly hydrated and replenished of any deficiency of nutrients.
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An unsavory result of using a sauna suit is the cleanup. I combat this by stripping it off and hanging it outside in my back yard. Then I’ll retrieve it and wash it down before using it again. Like any exercise equipment, bacteria can build up and cause sickness. And really, it only takes a few minutes of time to have a nice, clean suit the next time I need it. A big, laundry-room sink works great to rinse and clean a suit.
Another question I have answered pertains to suit thickness. And really, they are all about the same these days, and as far as performance, they will all retain roughly the same amount of body heat and sweat. Make sure you buy a size that fits. Most I’ve seen come in two sizes — less than 40-inch waists or over.
One tip I have is to wear sweatbands to keep from dripping sweat all over my indoor bike and workout floor. I have on occasion also put bands on my ankles to help retain some sweat and keep it from soggying up my shoes.
Once you understand that your heart rate will surely be higher for a given workout, you can experiment with how a sauna suit can help get you where you want to go.
And if you have some Scandinavian (sauna-loving folk) blood coursing through your veins like me, maybe there’s a psychological benefit to a hot workout as well.
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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.