Strength training, Sweat Often, Workout Tips

Are Cold Workouts the Next Big Thing in Fitness?

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By Lisa Elaine Held

It’s been a looong winter in New York, and on a recent 52 degree morning, I was feeling pretty happy about only putting on a light jacket as I left the house. But when I got to the fitness studio, I had to reach in my bag for a beanie. Yeah, this workout required bundling up. Sigh.

After Bikram Yoga became a global phenomenon, working out in sweltering hot conditions spread to a million other yoga disciplines and then to classes like barre and spin. (Not to mention how trendy sweating in all kinds of saunas is among wellness enthusiasts.)

But like in tech, in boutique fitness, it often feels like there’s a constant race to find the “next big thing.” One way to do that? Go completely against the grain, with the “world’s first cool temperature fitness concept.” That’s what Brrrn, which just opened in New York City, bills itself as. “If you lose more weight, exercise better, and feel better [when it’s cold], then why aren’t we turning the thermostat down?” says co-founder and concept creator Jimmy Martin. (In other words, when they go hot, we go cold?)

Does working out in a super chilly environment actually have benefits? And what does it feel like? I stopped by and dug into the research to find out.

I Tried It: What Cold Workouts Are Really Like

When Martin and co-founder Johnny Adamic were developing the concept, they worked out in the walk-in refrigerator at Six Point Brewery. The classes at Brrrn are not that cold (and there’s also no delicious beer), but the doors to the studios do make you feel like you’re walking into a fridge.

cold workouts(Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Nutritious Life)

I took the coldest class, a high-intensity strength training session at 45 degrees, and they also offer a core and cardio class at 55 degrees, and a yoga-strength training class at 60 degrees.

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I wore full-length leggings, a tank, a light sweatshirt, and a beanie. When I walked in, it felt pretty damn cold, like stepping outside for a 6:00 am run on a late fall day. My hands were the coldest, but I warmed up quickly. The beanie came off after the first circuit. I was sweating by the second round, but so much less than if it had been a normal workout studio at room temperature.

The workout itself was a solid circuit training class that alternated between strength training circuits using free weights and body weight (goblet squats, lunges, rows, etc.) and battle rope sequences. This was my favorite part of the experience (which had nothing to do with the temperature): I’m a huge fan of battle ropes (talk about a full-body fitness tool that’s also stress-relieving!), and they do creative things with them I’ve never seen before. The very last circuit was more cardio-heavy, and about five minutes before the end of class, my sweatshirt finally came off. So yes, you get warm. At the very end of class during the cool-down (warm-down?!), infrared heat panels on the ceiling turn on to warm you while you stretch.

Do Cold Workouts Really Have Benefits?

cold workouts(Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Nutritious Life)

My first impression was that the whole thing felt gimmicky. (Their extreme overuse of puns doesn’t help, but maybe I’m more offended by those as a writer.) The workout was tough and fun, the instructor was motivating, and the studio was well-designed…but the cold aspect felt unnecessary on top of all of those positives. My husband’s response to the concept was my favorite. He looked puzzled and then asked, simply, “Couldn’t you just work out outside?” Sure, honey, but we’ve got to defy the seasons!

Martin explained that he was first inspired by a personal training client who was complaining about working out on a hot summer day, saying that she felt better exercising when it was cold out and always lost more weight during the fall and winter. He started doing research and was surprised by what he found.

Brrrn claims the cold can make you work harder, burn more calories, and burn more fat. This is based on a few true scientific claims. When you’re cold, your body works hard to warm you up, AKA, your metabolism revs up. It’s often referred to as “mild cold stress,” and some experts argue one reason obesity rates have risen is that our bodies used to be exposed to cold more regularly, before the temperature control involved with modern life was widespread. There’s also some evidence that cold exposure can increase good fat which in turn helps burn bad fat.

What we don’t have? Actual studies that show people who work out at 45 degrees as opposed to room temperature end up slimmer or fitter in the long-term. There are a million variables at play, and it’s all pretty vague.

One thing you don’t have to worry about: I asked about injury risk related to muscles not being warmed up, and Martin said pulling muscles has more to do with movement patterns and lubricating joints, not actual temperature, which seems like a pretty well established argument.  (I did feel “stiffer” than in other workouts for longer, but that doesn’t mean I was more at risk for injury.)

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In the end, if you are one of those people who feels better exercising in the cold, then this is a place that delivers an excellent workout in that environment. And one definite benefit Brrrn isn’t bragging about that I’m adding to the list? If you’ve got very little time to get in a workout before a meeting, you can totally get away with skipping the shower, thanks to very little sweat.

(Featured Photo: Brrrn)

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