How does Temperature Impact your Workouts?
Is there a difference?
One question that seems to get asked a lot is “How does the temperature impact my workouts?”, or “Can working out in the hot/cold help me lose weight?” Well, there is a lot of different and often conflicting, information out there. This is a result of years of coaches, personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and researchers experimenting with different workout environments. With so much information out there it can become a little overwhelming, but we are going to try to dispel some of the myths that can not only make for a miserable workout, but also lead to injury and illness.
Heat up your Weight Loss by Icing Down
First, let’s get the myth out of the way early, you are not going to burn more calories working out in the cold than you will in the heat. I personally will take a cold workout over a hot one any day, but that is because I prefer to be cooler while working out and I am not going to mind if I burn a few less calories during my workout. Plus, I like to incorporate supplements into my workouts which can increase your metabolic rate during a workout. In this case a cold workout is the better option as well since your body will naturally be producing more heat because it is burning more calories as a result of the supplements.
The reason working out in the cold doesn’t help burn more calories is because your body is already heating up from the workout, so there is no need for it to expend extra energy to bring you temperature up. Think about it, you are still sweating even if it is cold, this is because the energy being expended during the workout is going to increase your core temperature. Once this starts your body responds by sweating to cool itself down. If you are working out in the cold though, you will not put enough extra strain on your body to burn a noticeable amount of extra calories.
With that being said, another good way to increase your calorie burn and reduce muscle soreness is a post workout ice bath. An ice bath after your workout will help prevent inflammation as well which will reduce recovery times and will help you burn additional calories since at this point your body needs the extra energy to maintain its core temperature. When your body temperature drops below a certain point your body responds by using extra energy to bing it back up so you don’t get hypothermia. Most people have found themselves shivering in the cold. This is your body’s most basic, but effective way of bringing your core temperature back up. When you shiver your muscles tense up a good bit and this generates heat and in doing this your body burns calories. In some situations you can actually burn up to 400 calories in an hour from this, but it’s not recommended to maintain this for very long because you can become hypothermic.
During an ice bath your body is going to move most of your blood to your core in order to preserve body heat. Once it has done that and your temperature continues to drop you will start to shiver. At this point you are burning extra calories for just sitting in an ice bath. Not a bad way to finish out a workout if you ask me, but again, be careful with how cold it is and how long you stay in.
Turn up the Heat to Torch Fat
This leads us to our next point, working out in the heat does increase the number of calories you burn from your workout. It’s not sweating itself, but the results of it that increases the calories you burn during a workout if it is hot and humid. Think about what happens when you sweat. Your skin turns red and your heart rate increases. Your skin is turning red because the blood vessels at the top are dilating to allow more blood to flow closer to the surface and help cool you off. This brings us to the second point, your heart rate increases. Since your blood vessels are dilated there is naturally less blood available. Just because your blood vessels dilate doesn’t mean the volume of blood you have has increased. Because of this your heart is having to work harder to pump the same amount of oxygen to your muscles and the rest of your body.
Now let’s take a look at the humidity aspect. Everyone knows how much worse the heat is when the humidity is high, but why is this? The answer is simple. When we sweat it is not the sweating itself that cools us down, but the sweat evaporating from your skin. If there is already high humidity and the air is saturated there is nowhere for the sweat to go, so it stays on you. Without being able to evaporate sweat loses almost all of its cooling properties. This makes sense when you think about it. Sweat is naturally going to be the same temperature as the rest of your body, so it is not going to be able to absorb anymore heat like, say a cool splash on the face, so it essentially becomes useless and your body has to work even harder to keep itself cool.
OK, let’s think about what we just went over. When you work out in the heat your body is going to have to work harder to keep cool. The main way it does this is by sweating, but this is not where the extra burn is coming from. It is actually a result of the increased work your heart is having to do to compensate for the dilated blood vessels which decreases the available volume of blood. In the end this will give you a decent increase in the calories you burn during your workout.
So, we have established that working out in the heat can help you burn more calories, but that doesn’t mean you should just run out in the middle of the summer wearing a trash bag. When working out in the heat you increase your risk of some serious issues including dehydration and heat stroke, not something you want. With dehydration also comes an increased risk of cramps. Cramps may not sound that bad if you aren’t swimming, but I promise you, a cramp in the middle of a run can be a new level of pain. Be sure to drink plenty of water during your workout to avoid dehydration, this is going to be your biggest defense again other issues as well since the more water your body has available for use the more it can use for sweat to cool you down.
Ice baths can be just as dangerous as working out in extreme heat. Hypothermia is a very real threat when taking an ice bath. You do not want the water to be too cold, try to keep the temperature above 55 degrees. If you are using water below this, you run the risk of injury or making yourself sick as a result. It is also a good idea to have someone else who can check in on you during your ice bath to make sure everything is alright. You don’t want to pass out in ice water.
In the end if you want to increase your calories burned during a workout the easiest and safest way is going to be to add a pre-workout supplement. While these are not magic powders that will make you lose weight automatically, they will give you and extra boost during your workout. Most pre-workout supplements are going to work in basically the same way, they are going to ramp up your metabolism, usually with caffeine and a mix of others, which will increase your energy and increase the amount of calories you burn while at the same time giving you a more intense workout which will result in more progress being made.
Post workout ice baths can also help speed along weight loss as well as recovery. This can be especially helpful for people starting out since you are far more likely to be sore and need the extra boost at the beginning of your training. That’s not to say advanced and intermediate athletes can’t benefit from them, but the returns are going to be lower.