A new fitness concept is cranking down the heat on traditional workouts, bringing new meaning to cool classes. When you walk into the studio it may feel like you’re walking into a refrigerator because the temperature is set between 45-60 degrees. The theory is that working out in colder temperatures may actually burn more calories.
While there isn’t direct research around the impact temperature has during exercise, there is research on how the body responds to cold temperatures, which provides support for the claims around refrigerated workouts.
Depending where you’re from, the studio could feel like a brisk fall day or the middle of winter. As you head into the room, you may feel more awake and invigorated due to the lack of heat and humidity. This may allow you to improve the intensity and length of your workout.
Dropping the temperature may also cause you to shiver, which actually makes your muscles work harder than normal. Your body is always working to maintain a normal body temperature, so in cold environments your muscles rapidly contract (or shiver) to raise your temperature. When this happens, it may allow you to exercise longer and potentially burn more calories.
“The body responds to the cold stimulus – the blood vessels become narrower and the heart and lungs have to work that much harder,” said Nick Mastropasqua, National Strength & Conditioning Association certified personal trainer. “For purposes of increasing anaerobic capacity and strength, science supports that.”
Exercising in the cold may also transform white fat (fatty tissue composed of white, lipid-filled cells that’s stored in the body) into calorie-burning brown fat cells (fatty tissue composed of dark-colored cells that converts into body heat). One study suggested shivering and bouts of moderate exercise are equally capable of stimulating the conversion. This means working out in low temperatures could make it easier for you to burn more calories quicker.
“White fat is the bad stuff. It accumulates around the mid-section and generally is just unhealthy,” Nick said. “Brown fat is used as a heat source and can be functional in this capacity.”
But this doesn’t mean to ditch working out in sweltering temperatures, like hot yoga classes. Nick suggests variety but consistency because the body is resilient and becomes stronger when challenged with different training principles and environments.
“Adaption and growth are ultimately what drives success stories,” Nick said.
If you’re looking to explore fitness classes in different temperature environments, it’s a good idea to check with your physician first. Also, remember to drink fluids – it can become harder to recognize if you’re thirsty in cold weather.