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How is your sauna bench height? Put two fists over your head

light steam graphic

That’s right, put two fists over your head, and that’s how you know if your sauna benches are the right height. Can you touch the ceiling while on the upper bench?

If yes:

Your sauna is on the road to being a good sauna.

If no:

Take 3 Wim Hof breaths, then consider restructuring the benches. If in a health club or hotel sauna: copy paste this link and send to the Director of Operations.

Ideally, want to fit two fists over our head to the ceiling while sitting on the upper bench.

Why is it that many who build saunas don’t follow this simple rule? Heat rises. Finns have understood this for centuries. Elementary school students understand it. So do cats. SaunaTimes has been preaching this since the 2014 Perfect Sweat Summit.

Now it’s up to you.

You can make this fairly easy change to your sauna, along your journey of good sauna.

jarmo two fists
Jarmo Lehtola, former President, Finnish Sauna Society, illustrating optimal sauna bench height: two fists distance from head to ceiling at the 2014 Perfect Sweat Summit, San Francisco, CA

Why is putting two fists over your head a way to measure good sauna bench height?

There is something called the löyly pocket. And whether or not you may get reprimanded for a law of löyly infraction, if your benches are set so that you can get two fists over your head to the ceiling, well you are swimming in the clouds of the löyly pocket. When we toss water on the rocks, the wave of steam rises up, along the ceiling and begins to settle downwards, over our bodies.

We are all familiar with the phrase: “no löyly, no sauna.” This would make for a great bumper sticker. Especially for cars in parking lots of those “sauna businesses” that choose to sell wood lined boxed rooms (88% from China) with light bulbs or heaters that don’t contain rocks (88% from China) and call them saunas. We are also well familiar that good löyly makes good sauna. To experience good löyly, we have to get up into the löyly pocket.

As we all know, heat rises. And if we have a lot of space above our heads while sitting on the bench, well “we are leaving a lot of heat on the table.” (Mike Norsdog, Opposite of Cold).

Anyone into good sauna builds their saunas to allow for two fists over their head while sitting on the sauna bench.

Two fists over your head is sauna bench height 101

If you’re in a sauna that doesn’t have the benches set this way, get out your yellow card and blow your whistle. This is sauna building 101. If you didn’t build your sauna this way (and missed my ebook instructions), well don’t get mad at me. Get out there and fix it. Don’t believe me? Go get a stool, and set it on your upper bench, and take a sauna round like you are a king on your own thrown. Toss some water on your rocks, and “aaaahhhh” feel the difference? Feel the löyly as all the pros feel löyly.

You don’t need a tape measure to put two fists over your head

But if we’re talking numbers, two fists over our head to the ceiling puts our sauna benches about 44″- 47″ (112-120 cm) from the top bench to the ceiling. Some prefer a little more wiggle room, say, an inch or two more, to allow for swinging a vihta, venek, or whisk branch. And that’s just fine.

Health benefits and body stressors

The sauna cognition theory states that the sauna we own is the sauna we will defend. And if you want to defend the fact that your benches are just fine down lower in your hot room, I won’t argue it with you. However sauna works for you is up to you.

However, remember the 2016 seminal study about the health benefits of sauna? Yes, you remember, the one from Dr. Jari Laukkanen that created a firestorm of interest in sauna. And this is the same study that sent many yahoo’s into the sauna building business. And these are the same yahoo sauna builders that have minimal regard to the type of sauna that the 2,300 Finnish men participating in the study used for 20 years.

Well, most likely all 2,300 Finnish men sitting in their saunas can put two fists over their head while sitting on the upper bench to the ceiling. Don’t take my word for it. You can go to Eastern Finland and visit with any one of the 2,300 Finnish men from the study. Odds are that they are still alive, and on the bench, as the study has shown a 40% lower risk in all cause mortality for participants digging sauna 4 times a week.

If we are revved up about hormesis, contrast therapy, body stressors, brown fat production, heat shock proteins and cell regeneration, well, we damn well better get up there on the bench where all that action happens, with two fists above our heads to the ceiling. You don’t need to get all body stressed about it. In most cases, all you need is a compact drill to back out the screws of your bench framework and reposition your benches.

Or maybe it’s time to treat yourself to new sauna benches.

Sauna benches basking in the sun prior to installation.

It’s not hard to build a good sauna! Come on. Let’s at LEAST get this right.


  1. Samuli Kerrman, Iki Kiuas, CEO, who has advised on thousands of sauna projects in Finland, and whose father changed the sauna industry globally with the rock surround concept (wood, then electric): “According to building regulations the minimum height for a sauna room is 1900 mm. (75″). Usually anything between 2000 mm (79″) to 2300 mm (91″) is good. The room height affects energy consumption and increases heating time. Thus, room height also affects the heater’s power requirements. The required power of the heater is calculated based on the cubic volume of the sauna room. The recommended height between the upper bench and the ceiling is a maximum of 1200 mm (47″).”
  2. Dale Horihan, Operations Manager, Lamppa Manufacturing, maker of the Kuuma Stove, “When we advise people building their saunas, we always have them start at the ceiling. We like to see the upper bench 44″-47″ from the ceiling. And start there.”
  3. Glenn Auerbach, Founder, lead contributor,, “I consider Finland to be the epicenter for the best saunas. I’ve been to Finland three times in the past three years, taking sauna with pros, with the express interest in learning about building the very best saunas. During 50 saunas in 12 days, I’m reminded of day two, which included several of the saunas at the Finnish Sauna Society. Each of the saunas, expertly built, have bench heights set so I am able put two fists over my head, with just a little wiggle room.”

Further Reading:

Ok, now that you have your upper bench the correct height, are you ready to tackle ventilation? Well, with ventilation, everybody has an opinion. But link forthcoming with two images. 1. mechanical ventilation, and 2. gravity ventilation.

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9 thoughts on “How is your sauna bench height? Put two fists over your head”

  1. Hey Glen, getting ready to start paneling the interior of my sauna finally! Just have to do some touch ups on staining the outside siding. Do you recommend 18 gauge stainless steel finish nails for my nail gun? The cool down room is pine so I assume I can use regular nails?

  2. Hi Alex:

    I’ve never pony’ed up for stainless steel finish nails. I’ve just use the standard ones. I set my nail gun to recess the head just a touch into the face of the paneling. I haven’t had any weeping or rusting at all. It’s worked fine.

    I understand and respect those using premium grade stainless. That makes sense to me! We do this job one time, and it’s a good insurance policy.

    Yes, sauna and cool down rooms are very moist climates. When we practice the bake and breathe method, things seem to dry out really well.

  3. Hi Glenn
    I just finished building my beautiful outdoor shower and in the coming Spring I will be adding my outdoor sauna as well. You’ve sold me on the Kuuma stove and I have a question regarding heat shields. I plan on putting cement board on the walls in a corner behind the stove and I also plan on putting up sheet metal with an inch air gap. My question is, Has anyone used high temp paint on the sheet metal heat shields on the walls? I’m looking for a way to protect the metal from rust but I’m not sure if this is hazardous in a sauna? Thanks for your help! And seeing that I’m just an hour east of Duluth I may be asking you where you get your cedar from 😊
    Van in Wisconsin

  4. Hi Van:

    I’d definitely get the side and back heat shields for the Kuuma. And as far as the sheet metal atop the cement board, yes, there are high temp paint options available. A specialty paint supply store can help. There is paint for all kinds of applications that are usable for your purpose.

    For me, i’m more of a fan of stone surround. It promotes lämpömassa, and “aaahhhh” heat (please note the three types of heat transfer).

  5. Glenn,
    As I have read doesn’t a stone surround defeat the purpose of creating an air gap for safety because it transfers the heat into the walls? I love the aesthetics of a stone surround to cover the plain gray cement board but I was under the impression that an additional shield is recommended between the stove heat shields and the cement board.
    Thanks again for your help!

  6. yes, most of the time, we do a stone surround with an air gap. A double layer of durarock. This allows for the stone to get real hot, and then no heat transfer into the walls.

  7. Hi Glenn,
    planning to build “daily meditation” mini sauna for one person only with electric stove with stones. I consider doing the height of sauna about 150-160 cm only for the energy saving reasons. Do you think the loyly will work in such low space?
    And thanks for great website. I have been going to native american sweatlodges for 20 years and am excited to find somebody who talks about spiritual level of finnish saunas…. Love and rgds from Czech rep. Vladek

  8. Vladek:

    We are speaking the same language relative to the spiritual level of Finnish saunas. We can talk more about this, and perhaps email/guest post may be our collaborative avenue!?

    As to your question, 150-160 cm, that’s about 60″ or 5′, which isn’t that tall. But my opinion is that this can work. I have been taking extensive electric saunas lately. I am getting a real “feel” of electric, vs. the wood fired that i’ve been taking for over 30 years. If you go with a tower style electric heater, you can be drawing steam from the entire height of the heater. Top of the heater to the floor.

    Sometimes, i’ll throw water on the stones down low, closer to the floor, for less “biting” steam. So, if you’re sitting in a 150 cm tall, you’ll get nice steam. Consider mechanical ventilation. You can maybe add that later if you think you need it.

    Sauna on Vladek!

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