Cold Temperature Workouts: Are They Good for You?

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Everyone is looking for a cool, new way to work out. How about the coolest workout in the world? Literally.

(Courtesy Lindsay Lange/Brrrn)

Located in the heart of Manhattan, Brrrn is the first and only studio of its kind that offers chilled workout classes in a 50-degree room they call “the fridge.”

What does it feel like to work out in the fridge? “To us, cool feels more like a crisp fall morning,” Brrrn co-founder Jimmy Martin says.

I normally resist new, boutique workout studios because I have a long history of injuries that I worked hard to fix. In my experience, there’s often a fast-paced, “push-through pain and forget about form” mentality that doesn’t appeal to me.

But the cool room intrigued me, so I decided to give the autumn-inspired workout a try for myself.

Before class, the music turns on. It’s bumping at a decibel that rivals a nightclub, and one woman requests earplugs, which the studio keeps handy. I enjoy music while I work out, but when it’s at a volume where you have students requesting ear protection, it’s distracting and not conducive to learning.

Our instructor, who goes by the name Cake, gives a pep talk and goes over some safety tips. Then we step into the fridge, which opens like a walk-in beer cooler – which is fitting since Martin and co-founder Johnny Adamic had their first impromptu cool workout session at Six Point Brewery’s beer cooler in Brooklyn.

Cake welcomes us with mandatory high-fives. The air hits me like a cool breeze. It’s refreshing, not overbearing.

We stretch for about 3 minutes beforehand, which is not enough for me to feel loose. The warmup also neglects to open crucial parts of the body needed before a workout, such as your quads, hips and low-back. But ready or not, we’re off.

Within minutes, I’m on the ground with dumbbells, then hurling weighted sandbags over my head and slamming battle ropes on the ground like a savage. I’m in one of the high intensity training, or HIT, classes. In the first 10 minutes, I’m warm enough to shed my long-sleeved shirt, and by the second round of exercises, sweat is beading on my face.

The exercises are complex, challenging and very effective if done correctly. We’re told to raise our hands at any point if we need a modification.

In yoga, I’ve noticed beginners are very inflexible and uncoordinated, and they struggle at first to learn the fundamentals or even how to stand straight.

Some of the weighted exercises are beyond the scope of what most average people are ready to do in their first class safely. Furthermore, the stakes are much higher if you misalign while pushing weights around. However, the trainer continually pushes us to go faster and harder, which doesn’t lend itself to healthy alignment.

There are moments I have to tune-out the instructor and listen to my intuition when they suggest a physical cue that I consider dangerous, or to challenge myself beyond what I feel is safe. In her defense, the nature of the class forces her to rush through complicated movements rapid-fire on a microphone, which even when taught with expert precision, makes it difficult to follow.

Cold Temp Benefits

It’s a workout that lives up to the Brrrn mantra: 50 minutes, 50 degrees, 100%. At the end of the class, when I step out of the studio and back into a warm reality, I feel completely worked out, but surprisingly energized.

The benefits of cool-temp workouts are well documented on Brrrn’s website. It points to the fact that in cool temperatures, your body has to rely on heating itself internally, activating your metabolism, which in turn burns more calories. It also gives Olympic phenome Michael Phelps as an example of someone who benefited from cool-temperature workouts. It’s reported that during the 2008 Olympics he consumed between 12,000 to 15,000 calories per day. They attribute his ability to stay lean and burn that massive amount of calories to his time spent in a cool pool.

I’ve practiced hot yoga for years, and enjoyed how the heat made my body more limber. However, the heat often didn’t agree with my stomach, irritated my skin and would occasionally leave me feeling wiped-out afterwards.

“We noticed that there was an opportunity to debunk this myth that a hot and sweaty workout was the barometer for a great workout experience,” Martin says. “I can assure you that heat does more harm than good.”

There is some truth to that statement. Some people with heart or lung problems should avoid heated workouts. Pregnant women and those taking medications that affect body temperature should consult with their doctors before taking a hot class. And everyone else should be aware of the very real risks of dehydration and overheating, says Dr. Jason Zaremski, clinical associate professor at University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of orthopedics and rehabilitation.

“The major concern is that your body’s core temperature will begin to rise and you put your internal organs and central nervous system at risk,” he says. Another issue: Getting too tired too soon can affect your posture and alter your ability to control your muscles and movements, boosting your risk for injury. In addition, people tend to stretch deeper in a heated class, even if they’re not ready for it – which can cause injuries to your tendons or ligaments.

The Future of Fitness or Cool Gimmick?

Martin also spoke to his philosophy about business and whether cool workouts have staying power, or if it is a fitness gimmick.

“A gimmick implies using trickery as a device to get attention,” Martin explains. “Our true colors definitely show on the faces of our customers, especially when they realize that they just experienced a reinvigorating workout that allowed them to move and feel better.”

These classes are fun, but there’s an emphasis on pushing harder rather than working smarter.

“I think you really need more stretching on your own,” Fabiola Marmol, a 32 year-old experienced Brrrn student, says. The native New Yorker works in human resources and attends a variety of Brrrn classes. She loves that she can get a good workout without getting overheated. She does, however, see the need to loosen up on her own before and after class.

“In order for you to have a good stretching session, I feel you need 10 to 15 minutes at most every class. I am very tight, so I stretch a lot. If you need more stretching then it would have to be done on your own.”

Like Marmol, I also felt the need for extra stretching. But we live in a culture where people want results immediately.

Brrrn stands by their classes. “Yes, I’ve noticed that many busy New Yorkers often neglect the necessity of a proper warmup and cool down,” Martin agrees.

However, he says that has little to do with the cold. “What’s interesting is that there is a big misconception about exercising in cooler temps, mainly this whole ‘pull-a-muscle’ myth that has manifested from God knows where. The truth is, the body warms up significantly within the first few minutes of exercise, and if you’re going to pull a muscle, it’s probably because you have over- or under-active muscle systems due to your lifestyle outside of the studio.”

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