Leaving the gym covered in sweat gives you a sense of accomplishment: You had to work hard to earn it. Similar to muscle soreness, it makes you feel a kind of pride — but it doesn't necessarily mean you had a great workout.
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While the hot yoga trend capitalizes on making you sweat profusely, a new trend is emerging that offers the opposite: cold workouts. Don't worry, they're not freezing-cold workouts, so you can leave your heavy winter coat at home.
What Are Cold Workouts?
The most notable feature of these workouts is obviously the temperature. Generally, the thermostat in these types of classes is set between a chilly 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Currently, Brrrn in New York City is the only gym in the U.S. that offers cold workout classes as such, but that doesn't mean everyone else is left out in the cold.
You can get the experience yourself by taking your workout outside during winter, working out early in the morning or late in the evening when it's naturally cooler or choosing a gym you know has the thermostat turned way down.
Once you're at the optimal temperature, you can do pretty much any style of workout at this lowered temperature, but some are better suited than others. For example, yoga and other activities that require flexibility aren't as easy in the cold. On the other hand, interval training, cardio and endurance activities work well in a colder environment.
Regardless of your workout, the frigid temperature makes your warmup that much more important. As a 2013 study published in Medical Science Monitor pointed out, heat makes your muscles and ligaments more flexible, which can help reduce your risk of injury (to a point). However, when the temperature drops, you get tighter and more prone to injury. You may even feel stiffer and achier in the cold.
Jayel Lewis, a Philadelphia-based certified personal trainer, explains that your body simply isn't prepared to work out when you're cold, so a proper warmup is key, no matter what style of cold workout you do.
Benefits of Cold Workouts
So why would you subject yourself to a cold morning workout when all you want to do is curl up in your warm bed?
USA Track and Field coach and owner of CHARGE Performance and Wellness Charles Scogna says that temperatures between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit help runners, other athletes and even your average gymgoer with a host of benefits that ultimately mean a more effective workout.
1. Helps Keep Your Body Cool: The longer you exercise (or the more intense your workout), the more heat your body produces. And all that heat needs to dissipate to keep your muscles and internal organs functioning properly.
As you work out, your body sends more and more blood out toward the surface of your skin as you heat up. There, your blood dissipates heat and cools off, and then it returns through your body and back to your heart, helping keep your core temperature down. So if it's cool in the gym, the surface of your skin will be cool and heat will more easily dissipate into the room.
Sweat is one of your body's other cooling mechanisms. When you work out hard (or in a warm environment) your body produces sweat to help cool your body down and prevent overheating.
When sweat evaporates from your skin, it helps you cool off by dissipating heat into the air around you. As the temperature of the room cools, the sweat on your skin and in your clothes doesn't evaporate as quickly, which is actually a good thing. The air in the room will cool off your sweat, which helps you dissipate heat.
2. You Can Push Yourself Harder: All of that helps with the second part of the equation: When you're not working overtime to keep your body temperature at an optimal level, you can focus your energy on working harder.
A 2012 study published in Plos One found that the ideal temperature for your workout is cool but not cold — anywhere between 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers observed marathon runners and determined that the best performances happened in that temperature range.
Brrrn keeps the temperature of its exercise room in that range. Johnny Adamic, co-owner of Brrrn, says that your perceived exertion is lower when you exercise in cooler temperatures, and a 2017 study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness backs him up.
The other co-owner of Brrrn, Jimmy Martin, believes that cool temperatures also help you burn more calories and improve athletic performance. And that's likely due to the first point of being able to work harder for longer.
What Are Cold Workout Classes Like?
To maintain colder temperatures without spending too much money on air conditioners, the exercise room at Brrrn is actually inside a big, insulated refrigerator. You enter through a large silver door that looks like a walk-in refrigerator in a restaurant.
It currently offers three workouts. The coldest workout is set at 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout that includes battle ropes, body-weight exercises and resistance exercises. The second workout, set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, uses slideboards and sandbags. The third workout, set at a more comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit, is Brrrn's version of yoga.
But don't think that the cooler temperatures mean an absence of sweat (as long as you're still working hard). The colder temperatures don't prevent you from sweating, they prevent you from overheating.
- Human Kinetics Journals: Influence of Environmental Temperature on 40 km Cycling Time-Trial Performance
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Precooling and percooling (cooling during exercise) both improve performance in the heat: a meta-analytical review
- Physiology and Behavior: The effect of a covert manipulation of ambient temperature on heat storage and voluntary exercise intensity
- Sports Medicine: Pre-Cooling and Sports Performance