In a World Run Amok With Hot Workouts, One Concept Bets on Cold
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- When you have the enviable task of keeping up with the latest and greatest fitness trends, there are a lot of “wait, what?” moments. Everyone’s looking for a way to stand out from the rest of the sweaty crowd: In New York you can take classes that combine high-intensity cycling with karaoke, as well as something called the “X-treme Firefighters Workout.” One high-end concept even allows you to exercise nude.
So it was with no small amount of skepticism that I fielded the pitch for Brrrn. The concept is core and cardio work, but with a goosebump-raising catch: Instead of the normal temperature, or fashionably hot, the studio is kept intentionally cold. Thus the “brrr.”
The workout is based on the theory of “mild cold stress,” which says when temperatures drop, your body relies on its own metabolism to get back up to 98.6F. Convinced by research that showed workouts at lower temps burned more calories and fat, the studio’s co-founders, Jimmy Martin and Johnny Adamic, pulled rowing machines into fridges at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn and set up sessions at an ice factory in Martin’s Pennsylvania hometown. They eventually won investor backing to open in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
I was intrigued by studies saying cold-temperature workouts are less fatiguing, too. And on a steamy summer day, the thought of walking into a chilly room sounded refreshing. Still, when I arrive, 55F feels colder than I expect. The door to the actual studio resembles a walk-in freezer.
Inside, it’s laid out like a cycling studio—architect Peter Bryant (who designed SoulCycle studios, among others) is both Brrrn’s designer and an investor. Instead of bikes, though, there are numbered stations, each with a slide board, which is exactly what it sounds like: a slippery board roughly the size of a yoga mat. To maximize slickness, cloth booties cover your shoes. As I take my first, tentative steps onto the board, I feel a bit like a toddler, but everyone around me is just as uncertain. No one, thankfully, falls over.
The workout itself is divided into three 12-minute “acts,” a nice touch that helps it move along quickly, instead of getting bogged down in a single exercise. We start by sliding back and forth, mimicking a speed skater, then switch and begin using the board for “mountain climbers,” where you drop into a plank position and run in place.
For the next act, we focus on the upper body with “sandbells,” soft bags filled with sand that we lift and curl. We go back to sliding for Act Three, which includes one exercise that concentrates tiny movements of each leg, like in a barre class. It makes my quads burn, and the sweat, despite the low temp, pours down my face.
The puns at Brrrn don’t stop at the name. The company’s website describes its ethos as its “Coldture” and promises to “give heat the cold shoulder.” The workouts, too, come in three “degrees”: First degree is a low-impact, yoga-inspired class that’s held at 60F. The one I try is second degree. Third degree, the most intense, drops the temperature to 45F and uses battle ropes and dumbbells as well as sandbells.
The studio is nestled in a slice of Manhattan that’s become the global epicenter of high-end fitness. A Barry’s Bootcamp is just a few doors down. Flywheel Sports,Rumble Fitness, and Peloton Interactive all have outposts within a few blocks. And of course, there’s an Equinox near the popular High Line. Brrrn fits in with this group, and its space has all the trappings you’d expect of the modern upscale studio, with keypad-secured lockers and eco-conscious shower heads that use 70 percent less water. Afterward, as I bask in my post-workout glow, I wonder whether the science will suffice to bring people back again and again as they do for other cultlike classes.
A single Brrrn class is $34, putting it just below SoulCycle and Barry’s, which start at $36. Is a cold studio enough, in a city with more boutique fitness concepts than cupcake stores, to build the kind of loyal mega-success achieved by those brands? One area where Brrrn has an edge is enthusiasm, from both its instructors and founders. And the workout, even without the cold, is different in a good way. My inner quads and lower glutes were sore for days afterward, and the attention to largely unused muscles evoked the best barre workouts.
And the science? I want to believe it. If dropping the temperature a few degrees can make a workout more effective and addictive, all the better. But check back with me in winter.
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