Die-hard practitioners of Bikram Yoga — and there are many — relish the wrung-out feeling that comes from spending 90 minutes in a sauna-like environment heated to 104 degrees.
One possible drawback of all that heavy sweating, however, may be the illusion that you're getting more exercise than you really are. It's true that Bikram's unrelenting sequence of 28 poses keeps you more or less in constant motion, and that makes it a more active workout than a lot of conventional Hatha Yoga classes. Therefore, Bikram does bestow some significant benefit in the cardiovascular department as well. However, you could also do a lot better by rounding out your Bikram program with other activities as well.
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In addition to stretching muscles and enhancing flexibility, Bikram does help you build strength by using muscle to support your own body weight. On the other hand, there are numerous benefits to be derived from resistance training with weights that Bikram probably won't deliver. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 10 weeks of resistance training can boost lean weight by 3 pounds, raise your resting metabolic rate by 7 percent and diminish fat weight by 4 pounds. Weight training also helps stave off or maintain diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. Resistance exercise also strengthens bones and can increased bone mineral density from 1 to 3 percent. Plus, if you're looking to bulk up, Bikram will only take you so far. Building muscle mass requires that you place your muscles under ever-increasing amounts of stress that cause tiny tears in the muscle that, when repaired, add muscle mass. For that, you're going to need to pile on some extra weight.
Don't Forget the Cardio
Bikram Yoga does supply a certain amount of cardiovascular benefit, but it doesn't constitute a full-fledged cardio workout. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that hot yoga classes such as Bikram raised heart rates to 57 percent of maximal intensity — which, generally speaking, puts it in the category of light exercise. Therefore, it's a good idea to jack up your routine with the high intensity aerobic exercise of your choice: running, treadmill, elliptical and swimming will all get your heart rate up to the recommended maximum for your age group.
A Word about Weight Loss
If weight loss is one of your fitness goals, relying solely on Bikram probably isn't going to get you there. For a 150-pound person, a 90-minute Bikram class burns 716 calories, according to Healthstatus.com. However, a 2014 Colorado State University study found that fewer calories were burned than previously supposed, with women burning 330 calories and men 460 during a 90-minute Bikram session. So for people who want to lose weight, the case for supplementing your Bikram practice with both cardio and resistance training is even stronger.
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