fitness · temperature and exercise

Midsummer heat too much? Try cold exercise…

Some people are never satisfied with the weather. When it’s cold outside, they yearn for warm summer breezes. When that breeze comes, it’s either too windy, or it’s too darn hot.

Me? I love love love the summer and the heat that comes with it. I do have my limits, though. In Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days before a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, temps hit 108F/42C. That’s too much for me. But at 7000 feet above sea level, the south rim of the Canyon was great. And Sedona, although hot and dry (upper 90sF/35-36C), provided us with delicious swimming holes with delicious cold water. I love love loved it– the water was cold but refreshing and invigorating (no euphemisms here– it really was great).

But suppose you don’t have the benefit of cold fresh (or salt) water at your disposal? What can a cold-seeking person do in the midst of summer to move around chillily? Of course there’s always Newfoundland and Labrador, which are plenty cool enough– just ask Samantha, Cate, Susan, Sarah, David, and the rest of their recent bike trip crowd. You can read more about their cold cycling adventures here and here.

But suppose you just want to experience the rush of cold during a gym or yoga workout. Is there such a thing? Of course there is. This New York Times article talks about gyms that specialize in colder-temperature workouts. One in particular, a gym called Brrrn, features souped-up gimmicky (IMO) cardio, using ropes and slide boards and weights and such like.

Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.
Instructor sliding on board with arms up, near a bunch of coiled ropes all in a row. Photo by Dolly Faibyshev for the NY Times.

Brrrn used to offer cold yoga-like classes, but their website no longer shows them. Pity that, because I have often said that I would love a lower-temperature yoga class. In fact, I searched all over the internet for minutes on end, and haven’t found one. Sure, there are lots of links to “cold indoor yoga”, but in the end, all my leads have gone, well, cold.

Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh...)
Obligatory response to cornball attempt at joke (ba dum tsssh…)

Why would anyone want to do physical activity in cold temperatures? People (including me) cite their hard limits to heat tolerance that curtail or even rule out hot-weather workouts. I don’t do well cycling in hot temperatures, although I do better over time if I keep it up consistently. This strategy, by the way, is endorsed by none other than the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where I found this rather detailed article (including graphs tracking rectal temperatures– these people are serious) about acclimating to aerobic exercise in heat.

There’s been a lot of press about the idea that cold weather workouts are more fat-burning, and that cold exposure promotes the conversion of white fat (“bad”) to beige fat (“sort of good but not as good as brown fat, which is really good”). There is some preliminary science suggesting that exposure to slightly colder temperatures over time can help convert white fat to brown fat (as usual, this study was done on 21-year-old men). Even so, exposure to warm temperatures reverses the effect. As for cold-weather workouts burning more fat— despite the hype, there’s just not research out there to support the claim. (If you find studies, please put them in the comments! I’d love to see them).

Back to exercise in a chill(y) environment just for purposes of fun and variety: from what I have found (through minutes on end of searching), commercial cold-room indoor gym exercise or yoga hasn’t caught on (yet). If Brrrn is still open the next time I go to NYC, I am definitely trying it (with my friend Martin, who is game for just about anything).

In the meantime, there’s plenty of refreshing cool and cold water around where I live for a chill swim workout.

And it’s good to remember that to every thing there is a season. And a time for every purpose. Including Snow-ga. Which may or may not be a thing. See below and check out this article.

A person doing yoga in backbend with one leg up, on mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr...
A person doing a backbend with one leg up, on a yoga mat on pack ice next to an iceberg. Brrrr…

Are you enjoying being active in the heat? Are you avoiding it? How does the heat affect your activity schedules and regimens? I’d love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “Midsummer heat too much? Try cold exercise…

  1. That’s the thing I used to love about the Velodrome in the winter. It was heated to not freeze but not too much about that. Felt great riding but not so great standing around.

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  2. I like cycling around 10-15 degrees C anytime of the year. By Sept. my legs have hardened to cycle in shorts in such temperatures.
    Then it’s revisiting that all over again next summer…after winter.

    If I were to say snowshoeing in -15 degree C temp is lovely, a lot of people in Ontario might think it’s crazy. But our air in prairies is much drier year round.

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  3. This is why I took up figure skating at age 50! For me it’s the perfect combo — hard enough mentally that it requires total concentration, so I can’t spend any time being bored and thus wanting to stop (see: me on a treadmill); hard enough physically that it gets my heart rate up, makes me sweat, and builds some muscle/endurance; and delightfully cold! I do get hot eventually, and then there’s the end-of-skate hell of going back outside, but those things I can deal with.

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