Cold Workouts - Does Getting Chill Burn More Fat

As informed humans we are always looking for ways to maximize our returns on investments and in this case it’s more bang for our buck out of our exercise routine. One of the latest trends may be cold workouts. These fitness classes are generally taught in temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees. The idea is that the cold causes a greater caloric burn as the body fights to keep warm through thermogenesis.

How It Works

We actually have 2 types of fat in our bodies, white fat and brown fat. White fat or adipose tissues are cells that store fat and are a major concern in obesity while brown fat are cells are high in mitochondria and actually burn calories.  Exposure to cold induces more energy burning by brown fat in addition to shivering to maintain body temperature.  The quantity of brown fat cells is also believed to increase in reaction to cold environments.  The idea being brown fat can help burn off more white fat while in a cold environ, in effect supercharging our calorie burn. Imagine same time and effort commitment, but better results.

One Plus One Isn’t Always Two

Woman running in snow

While science has proven that brown fat indeed burns calories at a higher rate in response to a cold environment this effect only happens when at rest.  When you exercise regardless of external temperatures your body begins to produce heat a lot of it. This activity produced heat warms the body to such a level that the body’s cold weather response stops and brown fat is no longer burning calories. Shivering is also an inefficient calorie burner on its own and generally curtails once the body warms from muscular activity.

All is Not Lost

Though exercising in the cold doesn’t on its own burn more calories studies have shown that those who work out in colder temperatures can exercise longer and harder. So, whereas the brown fat won’t burn more calories the extra effort you can output will indeed burn more.  Another benefit is the potential of feeling more invigorated during and after a cold workout session opposed to a warmer one as reported in 1 study.

Be Mindful

If you decide to try a cold workout, be sure to spend extra time warming up. Cold muscles and joints are stiff muscles and joints and are more susceptible to injury. Warm up with active and simple dynamic movement before you start your actual workout. Some experts believe 50 degrees to be ideal, take extra caution at temps below this especially if you are outdoor and away from shelter. Layer appropriate clothing and be mindful that wet clothes as they increase the risk of hypothermia.

So, there you have it, a whole new meaning for the term chill-out.   


Science Direct – Thermogenesis  Brown Fat in Humans