Some Like it Hot: Benefits of Heated Workouts

 In Yoga

Should you Heat Up your Workout?

September is in full swing and it’s time to say goodbye to summer and welcome cooler fall days. Each year during this seasonal transition, I notice that my usual outdoor running loop gets easier and my per mile pace improves. As I jog at a faster clip, I find myself considering whether or not heated workouts are really worth it. I’ve always been someone that runs a little warmer than others and found hot weather and rooms suffocating.

My heat intolerance has often made me think that I would have been a great cast addition to Spike Lee’s film, “Do the Right Thing.” A movie set in Brooklyn, New York on the hottest day of the year, leaving the characters uncomfortable, irritable, sweaty, and tense. However, my relationship with high temperatures changed when I took my first hot yoga class about seven years ago.

At the time, I was playing on my high school’s soccer and lacrosse teams, and had experience with yoga in unheated rooms, so I felt confident that I could easily manage the class. Spoiler alert, I was wrong.  The class was 90-minutes in a room set at about 105 degrees and 40% humidity, and I was drenched in sweat after about 15 minutes. While the heat warmed up my muscles quickly, allowing me to get deeper in postures early into class, the sweat and humidity made my hands and feet slip against my mat, which required me to use way more muscle engagement and mental focus than I had anticipated to prevent falling.

My breathing and heart rate increased as class went on, and I wondered if I had accidentally walked into a cardio fitness class instead of yoga. With about 20 minutes left in class I felt a sudden wave of nausea and ran for the bathroom. Fortunately all I needed was some air, water, and a quick bathroom mirror pep talk before I felt okay to return to finish the rest of class. Based on my first encounter, one would probably assume that was also my last experience with hot yoga, but weirdly enough I loved it. Afterwards I felt satisfied, mentally and physically relaxed, and even my complexion seemed brighter.

Benefits of Heated Workouts

It seems that I’m not the only one who likes workouts in hot environments, as the number of hot Bikram yoga studios in the United States has grown to over 600 studios since Bikram Choudhury started using heat in his yoga classes over three decades ago. Heated fitness classes have continued to flourish, gaining traction in more and more fitness studios including spin, strength training, barre, and pilates as high temperature workouts have been connected to increases in calories burned, flexibility, weight loss, and detoxification, according to Shape Magazine. Per research conducted in 2012 by the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, sweating can actually help the body “eliminate trace amounts of lead, arsenic, and mercury.”

Athletes have used heated workouts as a training tool for decades. Based on an article in Outside Online, “studies have found that, in addition to an increased rate of perspiration, training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and counterintuitively, make a person train better in cold temperatures.”  Furthermore, research conducted at the University of Oregon revealed that in addition to increased blood plasma volume, heated workouts resulted in changes to the heart’s left ventricle, which resulted in increased oxygen to the muscles. Athletes that trained using heated workouts also improved their ability to regulate heat by sweating earlier.

The Jury is Still Out

Despite these benefits, experts remain divided on whether or not hot workouts are really worth it. While it is still unclear within the healthy industry, adding heat to my yoga practice has offered me numerous benefits. Not only has it allowed me to gain physical and mental strength, flexibility, and relaxation, but it also has given me an appreciation of heat and my own internal temperature; so regardless of how you feel about heat, I encourage you to try a hot class if you haven’t yet (after consulting your doctor to ensure heated workouts are safe for you.)  You may be surprised by what the heat brings out in you, and I don’t just mean sweat.

What is your experience with heated workouts? Let us know in the comments below.

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