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By Abigail Wise/MEDILL

Yoga teacher Linnea Schlegel helps a yoga student with the Downward Facing Dog. She teaches with several studios.

Hot sports heat up the temperature, risks and potential workout rewards

by Abigail Wise
Oct 10, 2012

Hot Bikram yoga first gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1970s, but now the concept of heated exercise is spreading to sports that include Pilates, sculpting and even running.


With new forms of sports come new questions and risks to combat.

CorePower Yoga, a studio chain with several Chicago locations, offers yoga sculpt classes that combine yoga flows with weight lifting, cardio and core strengthening. The sculpting classes are set in rooms warmed to 95 degrees. But steamier classes at CorePower can hit 103 degrees.

Linnea Schlegel, who teaches yoga sculpt at the CorePower in Lincoln Square, warns participants to keep a close eye on slipping form and sloppiness. “If you start to get too overheated and too overworked, you start being lazy with your weights and not controlling them,” she said. “You can injure yourself by swinging weights around or dropping them so watch out for a loss of control.”

Exercisers drink lots of water for the high-temp workouts that proponents say can improve calorie burn and promote flexibility.
Heatstroke, dizziness and fainting are other risks of any heated exercise practice, according to Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut and a leading expert on heatstroke. Casa warns against exercising in extreme temperatures for those who are overweight or out of shape due to the added strain on the cardiovascular system.
“Get fit first and then get heat acclimated second,” he said. “Don’t throw both stresses at your body at same time.”

Just because participants are sweating more does not necessarily mean they’re burning calories faster, according to Casa. In order for athletes to boost the calorie burn with temperature, they must practice their sport at exactly the same intensity level as they would in a cooler environment. For example, a runner running 6:30 minute miles in 60 degree weather will only burn more calories if they keep the speed of 6:30 minute miles in hotter temperatures.
“The reality is when people move to the heat they don’t usually maintain the same absolute intensity,” said Casa.

If athletes do exercise at the same level, however, they will burn more calories and train the body to sweat more and cool itself more efficiently, an advantage when they return to cooler environments.
“This is really cutting edge stuff,” said Casa. “It will benefit all athletes and enhance their performance in different sports.”

Schlegel agrees that the extra heat brings benefits. She said the hot temperatures in yoga classes help increase flexibility in a way that a cooler class may not. “If you don’t push too hard, but you push a decent amount, flexibility can be increased by the heat because you can work a little deeper into poses that you wouldn’t normally be able to and get a little more stretch in your muscles,” said Schlegel.

Flexibility was one aspect examined in a Bikram yoga study conducted by Cady Hart and Brian L. Tracy of the Neuromuscular Function Laboratory at the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. The study focused on 32 participants and found lower back and hamstring flexibility increased by nearly 24 percent in those who practiced Bikram yoga for eight weeks. The study was published this spring in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Despite risks of overexertion and dehydration, many continue to exercise in hotter environments. For those not used to exercising in high temperatures, Casa and Schlegel recommend adding heat in increments. Schlegel suggests starting in less heated classes and gradually increasing the temperature. “As you start out, you get a little bit of heat. You can understand how that affects your body and you get used to it,” she said. “And drink plenty of water. I can’t stress that enough.”