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Hotter - Healthier or More Harmful?

With the popularity of hot yoga, hot pilates and hot barre, so many “hot” fitness options have made their mark on today’s exercise trends.

It seems as if most of our clients want to get the best bang for their buck when it comes to a workout, and it seems the more they sweat, the more “bang” they get. The popular temperature for many of these classes is about 110 degrees, which is hotter than a heat wave during a Charlotte summer. It’s also hot enough to cook an egg!

Yes, many individuals can handle this and can even find a purifying, detoxifying effect with the extreme heat, with more pliable muscles. Yes, heat allows for a relaxation of fascia as well. But exposure to extreme heat over a long period of time can be downright dangerous.

While I was training as a classical dancer, heat was my friend and I was accustomed to taking class in a room that was much warmer than a traditional gym. In the summer months, we dancers never made much use of the air conditioner. I’d say we even made leg warmers and shoulder shrugs popular.

We would slowly peel them off once we felt the heat in our muscles, but we’d quickly put them back on again if we felt the slightest chill. The most drastic attire I ever wore was a pair of oversized, plastic shorts that created a sauna-like effect on my hips and thighs. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it didn’t help me — I just looked ridiculous.

Although a certain amount of heat, like the temperature in those classrooms, allows for a more vigorous workout, there comes a point at which more heat is truly not better. Any temperature above 90 degrees with a 65-percent humidity level should be seen as dangerous...not detoxifying.

In order to understand this, one must understand the fascia better thanthe muscle. Fascia affects the whole body, including our internal systems, not just the muscle. Fascia is the new trend in fitness and wellness and is getting more attention now than ever — for good reason.

The superficial fascia is a soft, connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and links the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascia system. Your fascia actually has memory and often responds to past injuries and trauma by letting you know where the pain or discomfort is. It needs to be treated with respect and requires a balance to keep it healthy and to promote its overall well-being.

It relies on adequate nutrition, blood supply, oxygen and hydration. The nutrition comes from the foods we eat, the oxygen from effective breathing, and the blood supply from freeing up blockages and adhesions by gently opening up tissues. The adhesions lead to restricted movement as well as pain and soreness. When we aggressively open up tissue, it responds just as aggressively by contracting to protect itself from further abuse, limiting blood supply. The same can be said about exercising in excessive and extreme heat. The temperature shocks the fascia and it has to respond by hydrating more quickly than ever while one simultaneously imposes movement on it.

If you can imagine a sponge that is dried up, you can imagine a dehydrated fascia. It produces an imbalance and a blockage in the body’s system, which eventually leads to less blood supplyand nutrition, and can even produce a homeostatic imbalance. In other words, if affects the body’s biochemical makeup and its lymphatic and vascular systems in a negative way. The fascia Network in the body perpetuates toxin removal. When there is trauma to the fascia matrix, inflammation is very likely to occur. So an extreme temperature is traumatic to the body — it makes the body work too hard and too fast to equalize the fascia. No matter how much water you drink while you are exercising, the body simply can’t keep up. There is a reason people who live in very hot climates move slowly — it’s unnecessary for the body to be put through that kind of trauma to produce positive results in joint flexibility and well-being.

Therapists know that a well-hydrated individual responds better to manual therapy (massage) when one is hydrated properly. Meanwhile, an overheated room does not allow the body, especially the fascia, to be restored to an optimal state. Furthermore, subsequent changes in blood pressure is dangerous, hence the reason behind disclaimers people must signbefore such classes. Pregnant women are discouraged from any type of participation.

If you are looking for optimal fascia fitness, techniques such as Active Isolated Strengthening (invented by a well-respected kinesiologist, Aaron Mattes, who has helped countless athletes and celebrities), Gyrotonic, Pilates and Core Barre are available options. Overall, the principles are simple but sensible. Be kind to your body and, in turn, it will work well for you. Be smart about exercise. Know what your limitations are.

Monica Hoekstra

Society Magazine – February 2013

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