On a Friday afternoon in New York in July, the temperature was in the high 30s. But inside Brrrn, the cool fitness studio in the Flatiron district where the temperature is kept cool, it felt brisk. "Fifty minutes, 50 degrees (Fahrenheit, or 10 degress Celcius), 100%," is one of its mottos, and, indeed, the thermostat in the workout studio where the 50-minute classes are held is set at 10 degrees Celsius.
Every boutique fitness studio these days has an origin story, and Brrrn is no exception. In 2013, Jimmy Martin, a personal trainer (and aspiring comic), had a client who, on one hot summer morning, talked about her preference for working out in the cold.
Martin was intrigued by the idea of cold workouts and eventually met Johnny Adamic, who was part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's obesity task force and became Martin's partner in the venture.
Before Adamic and Martin opened their studio, they led themselves through a session inside the beer refrigerator at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn. They loved it, and in 2018 they founded Brrrn, the spelling representing the sound of your teeth chattering.
People love debating the benefits of temperature on the efficacy of workouts. Bikram yoga has brought hot yoga to the masses, and Tracy Anderson keeps her studios around 35 degrees Celsius with 75% humidity. The idea is that heat allows the muscles to be more pliable – think of ballet dancers wearing leg warmers – and that sweating a lot is good for you.
Heated yoga, particularly in the winter months, can be addictive. At Tangerine Yoga in Brooklyn, I always feel as if I have an extra inch or two of stretch in my warrior poses, and sweating to the point of being completely soaked can feel cathartic.
But sometimes I have headaches from dehydration by the time I get home, no matter how much water I drink before and after class.
Adherents for cold workouts say they can reduce dehydration and inflammation, and boost metabolism, so you burn more calories. And they believe the cold room helps improve endurance.
As with most wellness fads, both sides like to trot out evidence that their method is best. More-conservative sports medicine practitioners have said that extremes of hot or cold basically make your body feel as if it's doing more work.
For my purposes, I was trying out these workouts not as some science-based test but purely for the experience. In other words, I was hot, and the best way I could get myself to exercise was to do it somewhere that promised a little relief.
The Brrrn website suggests "dressing in light layers as if it were a crisp fall morning." I went in wearing leggings, a sports bra, a tank and a long-sleeve cotton shirt that I immediately ditched, as did the dozen other people in the Friday afternoon class. In fact, the 50-degree studio felt pretty comfortable.
Besides, once an instructor named Caitlyn started leading us through side stretches and jumping jacks in the warm-up, I was already starting to sweat. The class was HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and alternated between battle ropes and weights. We did variations of squats and lunges with our choice of dumbbells and slammed the heavy ropes down like a demonic version of double Dutch.
Each exercise was 30 seconds long, so nothing felt interminable or impossible, but there was also no break in movement for the 50 minutes of class. It was difficult, but easily modifiable. I took my friend Rich, who is in much better shape than I am, and he was challenged as much as I was.
Rich and I returned a few days later to try Slide, Brrrn's other signature class. For this class, the studio is covered in panels the size of yoga mats but slippery. Covers are provided for your shoes, and you glide from one end to the other, sort of like speedskating.
Lateral movements always feel awkward, and being accident prone, I feared slipping and falling. I didn't, and the sliding got easier as class went on. When we weren't sliding on our feet, we did weighted exercises with SandBells and did variations of plank poses that resembled Pilates.
Like the HIT class, we did everything in short intervals with no breaks. It was a difficult 50 minutes, but it went by quickly.
The day after the slide class, I was surprised not to feel sore since I had used some long-dormant inner thigh muscles. Maybe it was science, or maybe it was just my own comfort level, but it turns out I loved working out in the cold. At the very least, I have found a more productive way to avoid the summer heat in New York than movie theaters.
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