Trendy fitness studios like SoulCycle crank up the heat on exercisers to make them feel more of a workout. Whether or not you notice it, the rooms at some studios turn into sweat boxes. While this gives you the perception of a better workout, what does science say about the effect on your body?
Finding the perfect temperature for exercise is important for many athletes. If you’re a marathon runner, for example, it can help you figure out what environment gives you the best performance.
In fact, outdoor races are one of the most fruitful areas of research on temperature and performance. Studies show that there’s a sweet spot in outdoor temperature that gives runners their best times. That’s between 45-65 degrees fahrenheit.
While it might seem cold, consider this: your muscles generate a lot of heat when you workout, and it’s hard to cool them off. Your body needs to stay cool to protect your organs and maintain normal function. Imagine that your body is a huge chemical experiment. If you remember back to your high school chemistry class, think about how temperature can change chemical reactions.
To stay at a reasonable temperature, your body cools off by radiating heat from the surface of your skin. The hotter it is outside, the harder it is to transfer heat from your body to the atmosphere.
That’s why a cooler temperature is better for performance. What does that mean if you’re just trying to get in shape or lose weight? It turns out that your performance in the gym is more important than the perceived difficulty of the workout. In other words, a hot and sweaty room can actually hurt progress.
If you workout in a hot room, the effort it takes to cool your body will take away from the energy you need to do the workout. Your body will hit the breaks and slow you down earlier than if you’d been in a cooler room. That means you’re not going to burn as many calories (remember that sweating doesn’t burn calories).
Unfortunately, it’s not energy-efficient to cool every gym down to 55-65 degrees. But the important thing to remember is that you don’t want to go to studios that crank up the heat. Often it’s just a trick to make you think you’ve had a great workout. The truth is that you’d be better off working moderately hard in a cool room.