Is exercising in extreme temperatures (hello, Bikram yoga) really that good for you?

Image via iStock.

Spending 90 minutes confined to a room that is 40 degrees Celsius and 40 per cent humidity is a concept that baffles me.

Sweating it out in blistering temperatures while holding difficult poses? I’ll stick to my leisurely strolls in mild conditions, thanks.

But can adding heat to your workout really have added benefits? We found out.

Reasons to turn up the heat.

While I might poo-poo my Bikram Yoga-loving friends, there are some benefits to exercising in hot conditions, says Physiotherapist Michael Dermansky, the Managing Director of MD Health Pilates.

[Exercising in high temperatures] causes a heat adaptation effect, which means that your body increases circulating blood volume and your heart is able to pump more efficiently,” he explains.

But according to Mr Dermansky, these improvements to fitness performance are “short term”, and only useful in preparation for an upcoming event, “not for long term fitness”. So if you’re heading to the yoga studio as a recreational fitness activity, the long-term cardiovascular benefits you will experience could be minimal.

Aside from its calming nature and spiritual appeal, Bikram Yoga can have other benefits.

“You can also experience increased flexibility by working out in a heated environment,” says Amanda Fisher, Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor at Bangin’ Bodz(Post continues after gallery.)

So, if you’re not the world’s most flexible yogi, training in warmer conditions also helps you to stretch a little further and reach those extra-tricky yoga poses.

Should you keep your cool?

Before you blast the heater and roll-out your exercise mat, hold up.

According to Dermansky and Fisher, the heat’s role in making you extra bendy might put you at risk of injury.

Perfecting that ‘Downward Dog’ in 40 degree heat when you mightn’t have done so in room temperature is described by Fisher as “a double edged sword”.

Experiencing a wider range of motion as the temperature rises could actually result in holding poses that your body isn’t ready for, putting you at risk of sprains and strains.

This means that if the movements are not controlled and not kept within your normal limitations, you are more likely to injure your joints, muscles and ligaments,” Dermansky explains.

"A wider range of motion could actually result in holding poses that your body isn't ready for, putting you at risk of sprains and strains." (Image via iStock)

Putting yourself at risk of injury isn't the only cause for concern, either. Exercising in high temperatures can also disrupt the body's thermoregulation processes, Dr Despina Papps, a Physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide warns.

"[Training in temperatures above body temperature can elicit a] range of presentations from heat oedema, rash, cramps, tetany, through to syncope and heat exhaustion," she explains.

Also, not everyone has the same tolerant to heat, making Bikram Yoga an activity that's not always suitable for everyone.

Do you work harder as the temperature rises?

Unfortunately, feeling like you're putting in extra effort because of the high temperature is a common misconception. Experts consider the level of exertion for Bikram Yoga to be similar to that of other forms of yoga performed at room temperature.

"Bikram Yoga uses mildly more energy than regular yoga but would not be as effective as regular cardio training for weight loss... which uses substantially more energy than yoga," explains Dermansky. (Post continues after gallery.)

 If you're simply after health and fitness gains, a switch over to regular yoga is likely to give you the same outcomes without the potential health implications.
As Fisher explains, although Bikram Yoga may be your favourite form of exercise, its highly likely you will experience the same benefits sans the 40 degree heat."While Bikram Yoga is great, and you do feel amazing after a class, you get the same sensation from a general yoga class."

The verdict? Do what feel right for you, but don't feel you have to sweat profusely to get results.

Have you ever tried Bikram Yoga? What was your experience like?