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A Sports Medicine Doctor on Pros and Cons of Cold Workouts

A Sports Medicine Doctor Explains the Pros and Cons of Cold Workouts

A woman jogging in Sun Valley on a beautiful winter day.

The latest fitness trend doesn't require you to break a sweat to get a killer workout — you can thank 40- to 50-degree temperatures for that. I'm talking about cold workouts, a fitness method made popular by New York City studio Brrrn that has gyms everywhere contemplating turning down their thermostats.

Athletes everywhere are buying in, too. According to Karen M. Sutton, MD, sports medicine surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, cold temperatures can decrease inflammation while making the body work harder to warm up, which burns more calories. It doesn't hurt that working out in the cold can make you feel energized and more alert and won't leave you a sweaty mess, either, Dr. Sutton said.

To paint a picture of just how effective cooler-temperature workouts can be, Dr. Sutton pointed out that "the optimal temperature for peak performance in a marathon is between 39 degrees to 50 degrees F, with a loss in speed of 0.3 percent per every one degree F in temperature increase. Overall, slower marathon times are seen in hot weather."

It's only fair that if we sing the praises of a cold workout, we discuss the complications, too.

Building your workout intensity gradually rather than making abrupt, jerky movements will protect your muscles from low-temperature-induced tightness and strain, Dr. Sutton explained. She also suggested protecting your muscles by dressing in layers and shedding them once your muscles warm up.

While you're tossing your sweatpants and hoodie to the side, take a moment to sip some water, too. Since sweat evaporates quicker in cold, dry air, your thirst response is not as persuasive in cold temperatures, Dr. Sutton said. "A cold workout can trick the body into not feeling the need to hydrate nor provide optimum nutrition."

In the past, you may have been inclined to burrito yourself in bed upon the sound of 40-degree temperatures, but why not grab your favourite tracksuit and hit the gym, instead?

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