Hot Evolution in Health & Fitness

Posted October 1, 2018

What, where, and when was the first hot exercise practice?  It depends on how you define hot exercise. 

Since we first coined the term “hot exercise” right here on this blog, we have defined it to mean any exercise that is performed within an enclosed workout room or studio that has been heated.

That determined, as I contemplated that question above, I wondered just how far back does hot exercise go in terms of history.

There is no real information on the history of hot exercise, or heat combined with exercise in any purposeful manner until the late 20th century.  The first use of the word “hot” associated with an exercise is “hot” with “yoga” as far as my research can tell. 

The deliberate manipulation of a studio atmosphere/environment was first done in the 1970’s by the now morally embattled yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, who is from India.

We know that India is the birthplace of yoga, and the climate of India is largely tropical with summer temperatures rising to over 120º Fahrenheit in some areas of that country.  Many hot yoga studios claim to recreate the climate of India inside of their yoga studios.

“Hot yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta [India] in 1946 and started practicing yoga at four years old under Bishnu Ghosh. At 17, Choudhury suffered a knee injury that led European doctors to believe that he would never walk again. Six months later, yoga had healed his knee completely and he began to understand the importance of the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises.” ¹ He eventually combined the practice of those postures with a studio heated by space heaters and thus, hot yoga was born.

The first heated workout studio was developed in Japan in the 1970’s.  Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga and a former olympic gold medalist in weight lifting, experimented with heaters in his yoga studio there after he noticed his students using saunas during lunch breaks.  He originally heated the studios to around 82º F which was the average temperature of his hometown in Calcutta, India.  He found that his students could obtain better flexibility through elevated studio temperatures and he eventually increased the heat to 104º F, the temperature level that is used today for Bikram yoga.

When he moved to San Francisco in 1972 he brought the idea of hot yoga to the United States.  Bikram eventually became the yoga guru to the stars in Hollywood as his hot yoga business boomed during the 80”s.  Recently, Bikram lost a seven million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit and moved back to India, losing his business and his fortune.

Aside from the originator’s fall from grace, hot yoga has spawned a movement in fitness.  Not a fad, A MOVEMENT!

I remember my very first hot yoga class very well.  It was also my first ever yoga class.  I decided to take the class on a vacation over the New Year’s holiday in South Beach, Miami.  There was a small Bikram studio on the second floor in a location that was tucked away from the ocean and from the busier areas of South Beach.  When I arrived at the grungy little studio with my girlfriend at the time, I noticed that there was a space heater plugged into the wall in the front left corner of the room and the humidity in the room seemed almost unbearable from the very beginning.  The air in that dingy and funky little studio was thick and had a vexatious stench.  Nevertheless, we began the session and even though both of us were in great shape from more traditional fitness programs, we obviously were not in great hot yoga shape!  I lasted 20 minutes and she lasted a little longer, but we both had to exit the studio early.  When I came home after that trip I began a personal practice of Bikram yoga, which turned out to be a new beginning for me in fitness.

Hot exercise is challenging and it requires acclimation by the body to the heat! 

Since that first hot exercise moment, though, I was hooked by the challenge, and, as an entrepreneur, by the possibilities for a better way of offering heated exercise beyond just yoga.

So hot exercise began with Bikram, but what about heat for health?

Unlike the relatively short history of hot exercise, heat for therapy has a long history and is well documented as a wellness practice dating back to ancient times.

Sweating for health is an age old practice.

Ancient Turkish Bath House

Dating from the ancient Roman and Turkish bathhouses, to American Indian sweat lodges, to Finish communal saunas, most cultures on earth have a history of sweating practices for health reasons.  The practice became so sacred to the Finns that they actually used their shared village saunas to bore their children.

Since those ancient times, heat for therapy has come a long way…

“Thermal Medicine, or the manipulation of body or tissue temperature for the treatment of disease, can be traced back to the earliest practice of medicine. Cultures from around the world can point to ancient uses of hot and cold therapy for specific medical applications, including cancer. Modern research in thermal medicine aims to understand molecular, cellular and physiological effects of temperature manipulation and the “stress” response, as well as to develop effective and safe equipment for clinical application and temperature monitoring. As a result, today there are a growing number of clinical applications of thermal therapy that benefit patients with a variety of diseases.” ²

Evolve or die.  Innovation always wins the day.  There are those who view innovations in yoga, such as hot yoga and hybrid posture asanas as a bastardization of yoga.  I consider these to represent progress, or evolution in fitness.  We need to remove the barriers of tradition and DEMOCRATIZE EXERCISE, if you will!  Yoga should be more accessible to all people and more open to creativity.

“Perhaps the most interesting developments in hot yoga science involve something called hyperthermic conditioning—or exercising in the heat. Research into hyperthermic conditioning is moving forward along with the work of Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a biomedical researcher. Acclimatizing to heat through the use of hot rooms has been proven to increase both endurance and the capacity to build muscle. Early evidence is suggesting hyperthermic

conditioning improves production of human growth hormone and heat shock proteins—both of which lead to enhanced muscle growth and healing. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Patrick argues that it is this acclimatization to heat that produces what is known as the “runner’s high.” Lovers of hot yoga will recognize that a good hot class produces a significant yoga buzz.” ³

Along with the buzz, modern hot exercise programs should emphasize safe practice and a “Go at your own best pace philosophy”.  HOTWORX uses patent pending infrared saunas to promote a safe and effective heated studio with professional virtual trainers who instruct users to stop, sit, and rest on the mat if any nausea, dizziness or other illness feelings are noticed.  The virtual instructors, or VI’s as they are called, constantly instruct users to stay hydrated and to workout at an appropriate level of intensity! 

HOTWORX developed the 3D training method of hot exercise.  This innovative method incorporates heat, infrared energy, and exercise using multiple types of 30 minute and 15 minute isometric and HIIT routines performed at 125º F.  The company promotes MORE WORKOUT in LESS TIME.  The results from this evolved approach to hot exercise has been met with incredible health and fitness results from clients.  With this method clients are able to achieve greater fitness and wellness results through a revolutionary approach to hot exercise.

Health and fitness has now evolved BEYOND HOT YOGA!!!


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Stephen P. Smith, MA

CEO and Creator of HOTWORX
Former National Collegiate Bodybuilding Champion and Arena Football Player
Certified Professional Trainer