Is Our Beloved Hot Yoga Really an Effective Workout?

Natasha Burton

Christopher Futcher/Getty

Most of us have pretty limited time for working out—so when we do exercise, we want to get the most bang, erm, calorie-burning, for our buck. And even if we could in theory log a couple hours a day at the gym, clearly that would take precious time away from our binge-watching, happy hour-ing, and sleeping. (Not okay.)

Finding an effective workout is, of course, the key to not wasting your time and getting your bod in it’s best possible shape. With the help of experts, we took a deep dive into (enduringly trendy) hot yoga to see what results can really happen in 60 minutes. Here are some of the factors that matter most when you’re considering whether or not to jump into the hot room.

The Heat
The first thing you’ll notice, even before the class begins, is the intense heat. (Bikram classes, which started the hot yoga craze, are usually set to 104 degrees!) Yoga pro Jennifer Hassett, who serves as CorePower Yoga‘s brand marketing manager, explains that the heat isn’t just there for the added challenge—it actually does some cool things to your body—and face. “Heat stimulates the fat receptors, activating fat stores which then facilitate fat loss and the release of fat-soluble toxins,” she says. “Fat-soluble toxins are major contributors to slower lymphatic drainage and skin ailments from dryness to blemishes. Getting these dangerous toxins out of the body aids in overall health but you see the results fast through the largest organ of your body, the skin!”

Another interesting fact? Your capillaries will dilate in the heat, Hassett says, resulting in increased blood flow. This allows your body to more effectively oxygenate and increases the metabolic process of vital glands and organs, which mobilizes toxins for elimination. Good to know.

The Calorie Burn
San Antonio-based personal trainer Kristie Glenn says that because the heat actually increases your body temperature, you may burn more calories than you would in a normal yoga class. The average person will burn around 450 to 500 in a one hour session, she estimates. That’s pretty solid, actually: There are about 500 calories in four slices of bacon, a fast food burger, or two packs of Skittles.

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The Muscle Work
Here’s where hot yoga can be a bit limiting. Yes, you’re burning calories. And yes, you’ll transition your body though the standard 26 hot yoga poses, which makes it a full body workout, Glenn says. However, certain muscles, like your biceps, are rarely (if ever) used in any yoga class, which is something to be aware of if you’re focused in really toning your arms. While you will tone your legs a ton in yoga, unless you’re constantly doing poses that force you to your tippy-toes (which are typically not included in hot-style classes) you likely won’t be working your calves all that much, either.

The Flexibility
Because your muscles, skin and connective tissue become more elastic the more you do yoga, Hassett says, this allows for greater flexibility with less chance of injury. In this way, hot yoga is a great supplemental workout for weigh-lifting, and a helpful activity to continue to do as you get older.

The Sweating
Ah yes, the sweating. All that heat doesn’t just help you burn calories, stay bendy, and help you flush out toxins—it also makes you sweat like crazy, of course. Glenn explains that you will lose a couple pounds of water weight pretty instantly, due to all of that sweating, but those pounds will come right back after you drink water. Don’t be tempted to skip rehydrating after class, though—you’ll start to feel faint pretty quickly.