Exercising in the Cold Really Can Burn More Calories
But that doesn’t mean you’ll lose more weight
Optimize Me is an Elemental column exploring (and fact-checking) the weirdest self-improvement trends. It comes out every Tuesday.
Don’t let the hot yoga devotees fool you, there is no better way to train than with the air-conditioning blasting and an ice bath afterwards. Or so goes the theory behind the hottest new fitness trend: cold temperature workouts.
Jimmy Martin and Johnny Adamic launched their New York studio, Brrn (see what they did there?), in 2018 based on the idea that people can get a better workout and burn more calories exercising at lower temperatures. Brrn offers three different workout classes, all cooled to a brisk 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Martin, a personal trainer, came up with the idea in 2013 while working with a client who said she felt her best when exercising at cooler temperatures. The anecdote flew in the face of the conventional wisdom that “a hot and sweaty workout was the barometer for a great workout experience,” Martin says. “For her to say that she was encouraged to move versus discouraged to move, which heat often does, that piqued my interest.”
The next year he teamed up with Adamic, whose background is in public health, to research the best way to implement the idea. Their early trials took place in a Brooklyn brewery and a Pennsylvania ice factory hovering around 30 degrees (they’ve since settled on the “medium porridge” of 50 degrees).
Brrn’s website attributes a host of benefits to cooler temperatures, including better workouts and a fat-burning boost, and it cites the science to back up the claims. The concept centers around thermogenesis — the body’s internal heating mechanism that helps us maintain a toasty internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. When we’re exposed to the cold, our bodies have to work harder to keep us warm, thereby burning more calories.
Cara Ocobock, an assistant professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University, who’s measured thermogenesis in reindeer herders in Finland, says, “We can see in circumpolar populations, resting metabolic rates can be anywhere between 3% and 20% higher than folks from a…