I Tried the Hottest and Coldest Workouts Over 48 Hours
I am, admittedly, a Person Who Is Always Cold. It’s a burden I bear despite living in a city that barely has seasons and whose most extreme weather condition is a fog named Karl. I’m that person who never takes off their jacket indoors and keeps two blankets and an extra sweatshirt at their desk at all times. On the plus side, I go through very little deodorant.
There are millions of products designed for people who run cold as well as those who run hot (whoever those people are). It turns out there are also fitness studios on either end of temperature spectrum: Shape House, where people sit in a 158-degree heated bed and sweat, and Brrrn, a workout studio whose classes are held in rooms chilled to as low as 45 degrees. I’m basically only comfortable in an environment of 72° F, give or take two degrees, so I decided to embark on what my coworker dubbed the Fire and Ice Workout Tour: visiting both Shape House and Brrrn within a 48-hour period. Here’s what happened.
Hot: Shape House
Day 1: The idea behind Shape House, an “urban sweat lodge” with locations in both New York and southern California, is that for 55 minutes you lie in a bed equipped with FAR infrared sweat technology, which heats the body from the inside out. In that time, you sweat and can catch up on your Netflix queue. (Photo via Shape House)
Selena Gomez and Emma Roberts have raved about it. The Kardashians filmed an episode there, but due to on-air copyright reasons were only allowed to watch their own show during their session, which alone sounds sweat-inducing. But famous fans aside, the most compelling reason to go is simple: You get to lie in a bed, watch TV, and burn calories while doing the first two. Sign me up.
Upon checking into Shape House, you’re given a long-sleeved cotton shirt, sweatpants, and pair of socks. (You can also bring your own clothes if you’d prefer.) I love any excuse to wear what are essentially pajamas in public, so this was already off to a great start. An attendant takes you to a dimly lit room and tucks you into a warm bed like a human burrito. You’re given a remote control and a bottle of alkaline water (designed for “faster and deeper hydration”) and then left alone to Netflix and sweat.
I turned on the TV and settled in. The first 20-30 minutes are actually quite cozy as you sit in your own personal heat cocoon. Around 40 minutes is when you start to get uncomfortable, and the attendants know it, because someone comes in to place a cool lavender-scented towel on your forehead. It’s a nice, albeit short-lived reprieve — the last 10-15 minutes are when you really are on the struggle bus. I felt a marked increase in my heart rate, and it was hard to focus on anything other than the sweat running down the sides of my face. I tried to shift my body to find any pockets of air that were less hot than the inside of a hair dryer on high but to no avail. I know sweating is an important body function to help you naturally cool down, but as my always-cold body doesn’t usually require much cooling, the sensation of profusely sweating out of every pore of my body was as unnerving as the heat itself. Just as I finished my last sip of alkaline water, my time in the hot bed was up. Afterward, you’re taken to a relaxation room to enjoy some orange slices and more water (tip: Drink all the water) and encouraged not to shower for at least an hour, so that your body cools down naturally. So I changed clothes and went straight to work (sorry, coworkers).
Shape House was founded by Sophie Chiche, who discovered the benefits of sweating when she went through her own weight loss journey. Chiche says that at her heaviest she found it hard to work out without injuring herself, but “there was this incredible experience of, my body can sweat, my heart can speed up, I can have this experience of releasing endorphins that you get when you work out… And I could see that it was very holistic on myself. I could see that if I was emotionally wiped out, psychologically a bit off, mentally foggy, or any of those things, it would get me back on track.”
She wanted to make that feeling accessible to others by creating a place for people to take an hour for themselves to relax and sweat. She realized quickly that “it helps people sleep better, digest better. Their skin was looking better. In general, people were losing weight because your heart at the end is beating really fast because you’re burning calories.”
Chiche is careful to point out that she doesn’t claim sweating is better than traditional forms of exercise like running or biking. But she considers a session in the same vein — you sweat, your heart is beating, it’s benefiting your body. And similar to any workout, it takes a bit of time for your body to get into it, thus the 55-minute-long sessions. “The reason why you do the 45 minutes is so you can get the last 10.” At that point, your body shifts from cruising to “activating what needs to be released.”
I can attest that the last 10 minutes were harder than the first 45 that came before them. But it was worth it. Whatever was released during that time — be it toxins, bad vibes, or simply the red wine from dinner the night before — I felt energized the rest of the day.
Day 2: Over in the Flatiron District, Brrrn offers a workout for anyone who loves perpetually chilly weather. The studio offers three classes — Flow, a yoga-like class set in a 60-degree room; Slide, a cardio/slide board class in a 55-degree room; and HIT, a high-impact class involving weights and battle ropes in a 45-degree room. The studio also has a communal infrared sauna, in case you need to warm up afterward. (Photo via Cedric Terrell/Brrrn)
I tried the 45-degree class, because if you’re going to go cold, you might as well go all-in. The studio advises that you wear “light layers,” so naturally I wore long leggings and two not particularly light layers on top. The entrance to the room looks like a metal meat locker door, and there is a thermostat displaying the below-average temperature, just in case you’d thought they were joking about it. I walked inside and didn’t instantly catch hypothermia like I feared; instead, it felt like I had walked outside on a brisk winter day, goosebumps and all.
The class was broken up in three portions, alternating between HIIT exercises (weights, lunges, and “brrrpees”) and battle ropes. The chilliness was refreshing, and I wasn’t cold because there just wasn’t any opportunity to get cold; I was constantly moving or distracted by my muscles burning in their effort to throw around large, unwieldy ropes. The 45 minutes flew by, and I did sweat, though not enough to need a towel or take off any layers. (However, the guy next to me defied the cold by sweating enough for the both of us.) Later that week and full of courage from conquering the HIT class, I also took the 55-degree Slide class, which switched back and forth between light weights and a slide board. Sliding sideways on a slick surface made me feel like a less graceful speed skater, and most of the class, I just tried to not slide off my board into one of my neighbors. But once again, at the end of class I felt great after working a lot and sweating a little.
According to co-founders Jimmy T. Martin and Johnny Adamic, the specific temperatures of the classes are based on personal experiences; consulting with experts on “the science behind mild cold stress and its benefits on calorie expenditure, fat loss, and acclimatization to cold”; and their observations about how top marathon and cycling times happen within the 40s to 50s temperature range. They then developed three workout classes that were safe and effective at those temps while also being unique and differentiated from other studios.
Research has shown that exposure to cold tends to burn more energy. Martin and Adamic also believe “the cooler workout environment optimizes the fitness experience by allowing you to work out harder for longer. The biggest stance we are taking is to debunk this myth that sweat is a byproduct of a great workout. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll sweat in our classes, but you’ll notice (and enjoy) the fact that heat won’t get in the way of you performing to your highest capability.” This was definitely the case with me; I was surprisingly not wiped out by the end of the classes and went about the rest of my day feeling invigorated.
Well, I survived both hot and cold experiences, which I will chalk up as a success in and of itself. There’s something to be said for pushing your body out of its thermal comfort zone and realizing it can adapt fairly quickly.
Even though my propensity is to go toward heat, I found it harder to sit still in a hot bed and watch TV for 55 minutes than to do cardio in a cold room for 45. All in all, I appreciated both Shape House and Brrrn for different reasons. A sweat session at Shape House feels like an indulgence; I got to watch TV without judgment or interruption and have a rare opportunity to zen and zone out. It’s a nice way to reset, and I can see how it can be addictive. Meanwhile, Brrrn is a more “traditional” workout where you’re moving your body, and your sore muscles the next day will more than make up for the lack of sweat during the class.
While I like to be warm, I don’t really love to sweat, and I especially don’t love to deal with other people’s sweat, because who does? Most workout studios these days are heated (or crowded) to the point where you’re breaking a sweat before you even start moving, and it’s very unclear exactly whose sweat everyone is mopping off the floor. The beauty of both Shape House and Brrrn is that you avoid this — the former gives you your own personal space and the latter is generally too cold to cause extreme perspiration (at least it was for me). And despite two very different approaches, sweat or no sweat, both will have you feeling better when you leave than when you arrived.
Share your experiences with hot or cold workouts with us @BritandCo.
(Featured photo via Getty)
Lesley Chen is a California native who writes about travel, health/fitness, and other lifestyle topics. She has a serious case of RBF and exercises mainly to balance out an aggressive candy addiction.