Some like it hot, and they better if they're going to do Bikram yoga. Classes take place in rooms heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which the founder of Bikram yoga himself calls "torture chambers."
But it's not just the heat that's a challenge; the sequence of 26 postures, each one performed twice and held for 10 seconds to one minute, will test your strength, balance and mental fortitude. And, it will also burn calories, although not as many as you might think.
Don't Believe the Hype
Some Bikram yoga enthusiasts claim you can burn 1,000 calories or more during a 90-minute class. There's no doubt that the length of the class, combined with the strenuous yoga postures and extreme heat makes it feel like you're burning 1,000 calories, but scientific research disproves that notion.
Colorado State researcher Brian Tracy assessed the physiological effects of a Bikram yoga class on 19 experienced male and female practitioners between the ages of 18 and 40 years old. He determined that actual calorie burn amounted to 460 calories for men and 330 calories for women during a 90-minute session. Men burn more calories because they weigh more.
Read more: Poses & Benefits of Bikram Yoga
Bikram Compared to Other Types of Exercise
While that's still a good amount of calories expended through exercise, and a great daily goal if you want to burn fat, it's actually not a lot of calories for the time spent. It breaks down to about 110 to 150 calories per 30 minutes of exercise. That's equivalent to walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour.
So, even though Bikram feels like the most challenging workout you could do, metabolically it's not as challenging as other types of exercise. For example, you can burn 200 to 300 calories in 30 minutes of moderate pedaling on a stationary bike, doing high-impact aerobics or circuit training. In the same amount of time, you can burn 300 to 400 calories on the elliptical trainer or pedaling vigorously on the stationary bike.
Minute-for-minute, Bikram isn't the the best bang for your buck when you're looking to torch calories.
Exceptions to the Rule
The participants in Tracy's study were seasoned practitioners, which means they already had a good base of physical fitness. As such, they were likely at healthy weights for their heights and body types. Because their bodies were used to performing the exercises and used to the heat, they didn't have to work as hard as less experienced students would have to.
If you're just starting out with Bikram yoga, if you're deconditioned from a sedentary lifestyle or if you're overweight, you may burn more calories than someone who has been practicing for a long time. As you practice over time, your calories burned in 90 minutes will naturally decrease.
Read more: Side Effects of Starting Bikram Yoga