Braving the heat for a tough workout is nothing new. Hot yoga, the original heated workout movement, has been a staple trend in the United States since the 1980’s. In recent years, we have seen an explosion of new fitness classes and formats boasting the benefits of working out in extreme heat. Given this growing enthusiasm for heated workouts, we wanted to get to the bottom of the facts behind this trend.
While sweating is very healthy, it is probably a myth that sweating to excess will detoxify your body. Research tends to indicate that the amount of environmental toxins excreted through sweat is too minimal to have a meaningful positive impact. On the bright side, the body has an incredible, built-in detoxification system: the liver and the kidneys. When healthy, these organs take care of all the natural detoxification the body needs.
Working out in heat also will not cause you to burn more calories. You probably feel like you’re doing more when you’re dripping with sweat, but this is not necessarily true. In fact, the additional heat may actually prevent you from training as hard as you could in a more normal temperature. Most people will fatigue more quickly in the heat. Still, calories are not the only consideration. Heated workouts can be good conditioning to acclimate the body for outdoor races and events. Athletes may want to consider training in the heat to improve endurance.
A heated workout probably won’t significantly reduce your risk of injury. Certainly, a hot environment will quickly warm the body, loosening tight muscles and reducing stiffness. However, if you are not already very flexible, going deeper into certain poses may not yet be safe for you. Sometimes in a heated class, we can slide into stretches that our bodies would protest to in moderate temperatures. If you aren’t ready, you can damage muscle tissue by overstretching.
And, while heated workout classes are not inherently dangerous, there are health concerns that are exacerbated by high temperatures. The risk of dehydration and heat stroke are increased in extreme temperatures, particularly in a high-intensity workout format like cycle and HIIT. Sweating regulates the body’s temperature because the body cools when moisture evaporates from the surface of the skin. However, when you are exercising in hot temperatures, the sweat will not cool the body, but rather sit on the surface of the skin. The body will continue to work to cool off, to no avail. It is especially important to stay hydrated — do not wait until you feel thirsty to have water!
The Good News
So what if you love heated classes? Do you need to forgo one of your favorite workouts just because it may not offer some of the benefits you expected? Of course not! The only fitness “rule” that we subscribe to is to do what you love and do it consistently.
There are other potential benefits of a hot workout that are difficult to accurately measure. Many people report that they find it easier to relax and concentrate during hot workouts, particularly during meditation. This probably explains why hot yoga is still the most popular hot format. And, regardless of whether a hot workout will burn more calories or drastically improve fitness, sometimes an intense sweat session feels great!
It is also important to consider temperature. Heated workouts will range from 75 degrees all the way to 105 degrees. Staying on the lower end of that range can offer the same relaxing conditioning benefits without the elevated risks.
People that don’t enjoy heated workouts should skip them. Your fitness routine should not be torture! Some people just are not suited for a heated format, and that is totally fine. And, as is true with all workout styles, pregnant women and anyone new to exercise should consult a doctor before making a dramatic change.
Hot workouts can be safe and enjoyable. However, it is absolutely imperative that you put special care into preparation, recovery, and that you pay close attention to any adverse symptoms that pop up during the workout. If you feel any nausea or dizziness, take a break until you feel better, or duck out early. Drink plenty of water before and during your workout, and time your meals properly. You will want to leave about four hours between a big meal and your workout, but a light snack is probably fine as little as an hour beforehand.
And Cold Workouts?
Perhaps in response to the popular heated format and the rise in popularity of cryotherapy, cold workouts have made a small splash on the group fitness scene. Again, a cold workout is nothing new. Anyone who is signed up for a race this season is no stranger to a frigid morning run. Cold classes hover around 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which is nothing compared to the -200 degrees Fahrenheit typically used in a cryotherapy chamber. While shivering can burn calories, the shivering will stop as you warm up from the exercise. Ultimately, cold workout classes are probably a gimmick. You’re better off spending time outside this fall and winter.
So, where does this leave us with the benefits of heated workouts? Some people will love them, some people will hate them. If you’re not a fan of heat, you can skip it with a clear conscience. For those who love heated workouts, Annapolis Athletic Club offers Prana Sculpt (heated to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and our outdoor workout yard is open whenever we are. See you there!