From Hot Yoga To Hot Cycling: Pros & Cons of Exercising in Heat

Recently I shared a post about identifying and preventing heat stroke. Keeping with the hot and steamy theme, here’s the ins and outs of exercising in extreme heat from Jenn Zerling, MS, CPT, Fitness Expert and Author of Breaking the Chains of Obesity, 107 Tools.

Hot yoga has become extremely popular over the past couple of years. Hot indoor cycling and hot sculpting classes are also making their mark in the fitness industry.  These places claim that students who workout in their facility will burn more calories, lose more weight and have a better workout because the heat allows the muscles to work better when heated.  However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 300 Americans die every year of heat-related illnesses. Most of these deaths could be avoided if people understood the dangers of exerting themselves in the heat. So does that mean that these places are bad for you and you should avoid them?

JZ Blog PostJenn states she is a big fan of hot yoga, and in addition to that she does not take any medications, does not have a heart condition, and she’s always properly hydrated before, during, and after a class.  “Usually, my heart rate is less than 80% of its maximum capacity.  Even at this intensity, I am sweating profusely, thereby ridding of many electrolytes and fluids all of which are replenished appropriately.”

The practice of yoga in the heat means the practitioner must be mindful of those things. When these factors aren’t observed, it could be dangerous to an individual. They could suffer from severe dehydration, heat stroke, or even cardiac arrest.  Another problem could be an over stretching of the ligaments and joints because muscles become more pliable when heated.

Sculpting classes are a different beast in and of itself. If a student does not get the appropriate amount of rest in between sets, or pay enough attention to the above details, a person in this type of program is at high risk for hyperthermia and dehydration.

And with indoor cycling in the heat, there are plenty of reported incidences of athletes, fire firefighters, and other in shape individuals who have collapsed and/or died from heat stroke, hyperthermia, and/or severe dehydration when training at high intensities in the heat.  With that in mind, training at a maximum heart rate over 80% is considered a high intensity and is certainly not a recommendation by the CDC or any other governing fitness body.

So is it worth it to train in the heat?  While most governing bodies of fitness prescription will say no, don’t exert in the heat, it might be clearer to say that as long as you don’t have any of the conditions listed below, you might be able to successfully enroll in a hot yoga class that is lower than 100 degrees for an hour:

The Elderly: People with chronic (long-term) illnesses who are taking certain medicines.

People who are severely obese: People with low cardiac reserve whose hearts are unable to quickly adjust to the changes the body goes through in extreme heat, such as an increased heart rate. Heart failure patients and children younger than 4 usually have low cardiac reserve. They can become dehydrated very easily, even just by sitting in a house that is too hot or walking outside in hot weather. Be sure to take into account the importance of proper hydration and rest intervals while training.  Any training that takes your heart rate up beyond 80% of your max is more of a risk vs. a benefit.  With proper nutrition (the JZ FITNESS app will be out soon in the apple store), and enough exercise each week, one can drop the pounds and look and feel optimal without having to risk their health under such extreme conditions.

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**Disclaimer: The above information was taken from a press release provide by Jenn Zerling. Additional references include http://www.texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/HSmart/hydrate.cfm and http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/pdfs/face200917.pdf**
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