There's nothing quite like the satisfying feeling of having a sweat-drenched workout, and if you practice Bikram yoga, you know that enduring the heat is an accomplishment in itself.
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Although you may feel like you're burning hundreds and hundreds of calories doing Bikram, you're probably not burning as much as you think. If you want to lose weight, you'll need to take into account more than just the sweat factor. Here's how you can effectively incorporate Bikram yoga into your routine to help you shed pounds.
How Many Calories Does Bikram Yoga Burn?
The amount of calories you burn during yoga will depend on several factors, including your weight, fitness level and the length and intensity of your workout. For any standard Hatha yoga practice, you can expect to burn anywhere between 120 and 178 calories for a 30-minute session, depending on your weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Because Bikram yoga is taught in a heated room at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity, you will sweat a lot, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a higher calorie burn than standard yoga.
After comparing the heart rate and core temperature of students in a regular yoga class to a Bikram yoga class, researchers of a July 2013 study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the increase in heart rate among class participants was generally the same, regardless of the yoga class.
During a Hatha yoga class, a 155-pound person can expect to burn around 447 calories after a 90-minute session, per Harvard Health Publishing. Similarly, after analyzing a 90-minute Bikram yoga class, researchers of a small Colorado State University study found that male participants burned about 460 calories and female participants burned about 330 calories.
These studies suggest that you're not burning as many calories doing Bikram as you might think. So how do you increase your calorie burn?
Although Bikram is taught at a slower pace, poses are held for anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute, explains Lindsay Pirozzi, a certified yoga instructor. Holding challenging poses for extended periods of time can increase your heart rate, thus increasing your total calories burned.
The amount of calories you shed during your Bikram yoga class (or any workout class) also depends on the effort you put in. The more movement you get in, the more calories you can expect to burn. Or, the longer you extend your practice, the higher your calorie burn will be. Bikram classes are 90 minutes long, so you can expect to burn a little more calories than a standard 60-minute yoga class if you move throughout class.
Pirozzi also says that focusing on engaging the right muscles in each pose can help you improve your strength and build more lean muscle, which burns more calories. But practicing proper form and loading the right muscles in Bikram can be tricky, so make sure you find a qualified instructor who can give you some helpful cues throughout class.
How to Increase Your Calorie Burn During Bikram Yoga
- Move between poses more quickly
- Hold your poses for longer periods of time
- Take fewer breaks during class
- Engage the right muscles while holding poses
The Benefits of Bikram Yoga
Generally speaking, any style of yoga, including Bikram, is a great way to build your flexibility because you're holding poses for a few seconds at a time, and your joints move through a full range of motion. Here are some other ways Bikram yoga can improve your overall health and fitness:
- You'll build core strength. Yoga is an excellent way to develop core strength — and nearly every yoga pose, like the ones in Bikram, target your core, according to the ACE. A strong midsection will not only help improve your posture, but it gives you the core stability to make everyday tasks easier.
- You'll increase lean muscle. Bikram yoga is great for building overall strength and muscle tone, according to Pirozzi. Because you're holding poses for a longer period of time during Bikram, it will increase your muscle strength and endurance.
- You may prevent bone density loss. After tracking the bone density levels of nine yoga instructors, who taught at least three Bikram yoga classes per week, researchers of a March 2014 study in Scientific Research found that the practice increased bone density levels in the pre-menopausal people, suggesting that Bikram yoga may help prevent bone density loss.
- You'll reduce stress. Hot yoga can also help improve your stress levels. After completing a 16-week Bikram yoga program, participants of an April 2018 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport significantly improved their stress levels.
Losing Weight With Bikram Yoga
Create a Calorie Deficit
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, which is when you burn more calories than you consume, according to the Mayo Clinic. But increasing your calorie burn by including Bikram yoga in your routine is only one part of an effective weight-loss plan. You'll want to incorporate a healthy, balanced diet, too.
In order to create a calorie deficit, you need to calculate your maintenance calories, which is how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight. You can find this number by tracking your food and weight across a week or two using a food diary or app like MyPlate.
Once you have figured out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight, you can slowly cut up to 500 calories per day to lose about one pound each week, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Limit Processed Foods
The best way to create a calorie deficit in your diet is by swapping some of the processed foods in your diet for healthier alternatives. Cookies, sweetened coffees/smoothies and potato chips are high in calories, but they don't provide many (if any) nutrients, often leaving you hungry for more.
Instead, eat whole foods as much as possible. Fill your plate with all sorts of fruits and vegetables at each meal. Veggies are full of vitamins and fiber, an important nutrient that helps regulate your digestion, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you're exercising in high heat as you do in Bikram yoga, you'll want to get enough energy-boosting carbs for your workout. When you train in hot temperatures, your body circulates more blood, which increases your heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. In other words, you use more energy when exercising in a hot room. So, focus on eating whole grains and other healthy carbs, like berries and sweet potatoes.
Finally, don't skimp on protein, as it will help you retain muscle mass and curb hunger while you're losing weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Prioritize leaner protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, low-fat dairy, eggs and lean beef and pork.
Another important element is hydration. Drinking more water won't spur weight loss, but it will ensure your body stays hydrated to perform basic functions during an especially sweaty practice. If you practice Bikram yoga several days a week, it's important that you drink plenty of water before, during and after your classes, as you're likely to lose a lot of fluids.
Incorporate Other Forms of Exercise
The bottom line is if you want to lose weight, you need to combine Bikram yoga with other forms of exercise to help you increase your calorie and fat burn. Aerobic exercise, like walking, running and cycling, and strength training promote greater lean muscle mass and calorie burn than Bikram yoga.
While a Bikram yoga class is a great way to build lean muscle, incorporating some power yoga, like Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga, into your weekly routine can help boost your calorie burn and strength gain. That's because Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga are taught at a faster pace and will force you to match movement to breath, so you're constantly moving.
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition Rules That Will Fuel Your Workout"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to the Weight-Loss Basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity"
- American Council on Exercise: "Building Core Strength with Yoga"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Mayo Clinic: "Heat and Exercise: Keeping Cool in Hot Weather"
- Colorado State University: "Researcher: ‘Hot’ Yoga Yields Fitness Benefits"
- American Council on Exercise: "HOT YOGA Go Ahead and Turn Up the Heat"
- Scientific Research: "Optimization of Physical Activity as a Countermeasure of Bone Loss: A 5-Year Study of Bikram Yoga Practice in Females"
- Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: "Effect of a 16-week Bikram Yoga Program on Perceived Stress, Self-Efficacy and Health-Related Quality of Life in Stressed and Sedentary Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial"