It’s the middle of summer in New York City and here I was dressed for late October—full-length leggings, thick socks, a long-sleeve shirt, and even a hat. I even contemplated gloves.
I came prepared, or so I thought, to try out a new boutique fitness studio called Brrrn that is intentionally kept chilled as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit—even when it’s twice that outside.
I am from California, and, like many people, despise the cold. So the idea of working out in refrigerator temps—the Silicon Alley gym has giant industrial cooling units—gave me pause.
“It’s so funny to see people’s point perception of comfort,” laughs Jimmy T. Martin, cofounder of Brrrn, which is billed as the world’s first cool temperature gym.
“People walk in dressed for winter and within the first couple of minutes, it feels like backstage at a strip club. They’re just taking all their stuff off.”
I was one of those people. Within five minutes, I attempted my best Magic Mike, peeling off those external layers I walked in with. Soon into the 45-minute session, I nearly felt too hot while doing my burpees, squats, side-to-side slides, and planks.
Twenty minutes in, my initial trepidation seemed absurd: It feels less like a meat locker and more like a crisp fall morning. This is what every gym should feel like.
That shift is exactly part of Brrrn’s mission: to make cold more palpable to the average American. Traditionally, we crave the comforts of 72 degrees, reports the ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). But that isn’t necessarily ideal for working out.
Brrrn, which opened its doors in May, wants to reintroduce the benefits of lower temperatures.
“The hardest thing to do in the boutique space is to encourage movement,” explains cofounder Johnny Adamic, “and there’s nothing better in our opinion than to turn the thermostat down and just be completely in the moment–not feeling like your body has to sweat profusely to cool off.”
Cold, hard facts?
Martin and Adamic say cold weather gets a bad rap—that’s it’s misunderstood. Most people, for example, confuse why we get sick in the winter; it’s not the temperature, but that we’re indoors more, and that dry air is bad for respiration and makes one more prone to infection. Ultimately, the low humidity and germs are the culprit.
Adamic gives the example of the reaction people have when they hear a 60-year-old man has a heart attack while shoveling snow. Cold is rarely the culprit in that tragedy, he says. “No one brings to light that this person also had 30 years of sedentary lifestyle, a really bad diet, or that his in-laws were over during the holidays and he was stressed,” he says.
Cold, he argues, actually has a bounty of benefits. Research found that cooler environments boost alertness and performance, better serves heart health, helps you sleep better, and perhaps most relevant to fitness, burns more calories.
Not to mention, as the body heats up during exercise, outside heat often just makes movement unbearably uncomfortable. It’s why marathons are held during the spring and late fall.
Martin likens working out in the heat to trying to have two conversations at once. He says the body can’t acutely focus on exercising if it must simultaneously cool itself. In colder (but not too cold) spaces, “All your body has to worry about is performing because it’s not working hard to dump heat to cool your body.”
Martin discovered this firsthand as a personal trainer. His clients said they functioned remarkably better during the winter months. In 2013, he began to research cold weather effects and wondered: Why isn’t there a gym dedicated to this? The next year, he met Adamic, a trained yoga instructor who also served as a former public health official for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Obesity Task Force. Both were invested in health and wellness–though from different angles–and looking to bring something new to the sector.
The boutique boom
Boutique fitness chains are the fastest growing sector of the $22 billion health club industry, and there’s no shortage of unique offerings, be it goat yoga or sound bath meditations–heck, even “mermaid” aqua classes. The duo wanted something with a more scientific founding that didn’t just mutate an existing modality.
“We felt that in order to really disrupt [the industry], we had to step so far outside the box that we challenged the status quo–and that was playing with not just the workout, but the workout environment,” explains Martin.
The cofounders knew they needed to test their theory, but in a controlled environment, one much like the one they ultimately envisioned. They performed preliminary trials at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn and for their second trial, they ventured to an ice factory in Martin’s’s hometown of Swoyersville, Pennsylvania.
Armed with data on their own exercise performance, they met with former NASA scientist and “cold expert” Ray Cronise, who penned the “metabolic winter” concept that argues that constant warmth is harming human metabolism.
“We are warm from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed: We wake up in 72, we shower [in hot water], we go to a gym, sit in an office that’s 72, and complain if it’s 69,” says Adamic.
Western society essentially engineered cold out of our lives, but that thermal cocoon of comfort might be partially to blame for our nation’s obesity epidemic (along with overfeeding ourselves). Mild cold (55 to 65 degrees), claims Cronise, could reverse some of those effects. (Studies are still in the infant phase, with researchers conflicted on end results.) It’s part of a larger trend in the last few years that has seen the wellness industry adopt colder pursuits once reserved for elite athletes, such as cryotherapy, ice baths, and “fat freezing” centers.
Exacting the studio dynamics was also a significant part of the research process. The cofounders spent months working with respiratory therapists to develop the right temperature environment and humidity that would be both safe and effective.
When they finally felt they had enough research, the two began trying to onboard investors. Potential partners asked: Why would New Yorkers want to subject themselves to more cold?
To that, Martin responds with another question: Do people stop doing hot yoga stop when it gets hot out? Customers acclimate to cooler environments, especially if they think it will benefit their fitness outcome. Not to mention, says Martin, “When it’s 10 degrees outside, walking into a 45- to 60-degree [environment] feels like bliss.”
Brrrn raised $1.3 million in funding, with investors spanning architect and builder Peter Bryant, Rick Treese (Former WebMD CTO), Simon Manse (CryoFuel cofounder), and celebrity hairstylist Orlando Pita. Bryant also designed the 3,000-square-foot studio in New York City’s Flatiron neighborhood. The space boasts an industrial-meets-ski-lodge aesthetic, complete with a retro fridge packed with, of course, Sixpoint beer.
To serve a wide range of fitness fans, Brrn offers three different $34 classes: yoga-inspired mobility and strength conditioning (60°F), cardio slide board (55°F) and HIIT (45°F). For those looking to indulge in some warmer weather relaxation, the studio also includes an eight-person communal infrared sauna. There are also lockers, showers, and a swag area to bulk up on the studios’ pun-heavy apparel.
Last month, I witnessed two packed classes of New Yorkers dressed just as one would to any other gym. They wore shorts, tank tops, and in no way seemed phased as the doors to the gym opened and a rush of winter-like air overcame them. Granted, none of these clients have attended Brrn during the winter months, but so far, the concept does seem to be winning over local fitness fans.
One female client was simply dressed in a sports bra and tiny lycra shorts. “Are you nervous you’ll be chilly?” I asked. She laughed.
The cofounders believe there’s certainly something reflective in the decision to frequent a studio as challenging as Brrn. In some ways, it’s in line with people who decide to make their home in New York City: “They don’t mind being uncomfortable for the sake of what’s on the other side,” says Martin, likening city living to the cold. “There’s something beautiful in discomfort–the idea of stepping outside your comfort zone and finding growth in those spaces.”
Cold is the impetus for Brrrn, but the concept is undeniably more primal for the duo: “This is a 45-minute experience–a time to remind us digital junkies that we are animals,” stresses Adamic.
In the coming year, Martin and Adamic intend to expand Brrrn to more markets: first Los Angeles, followed by Miami, Dallas, and Chicago. Until then, they’re busy anticipating their very first winter in a city that sees quite a bit of it, and thinking: How can we sex it up? How do we brand it?
“We are calling attention to the fact that we live in these thermal cocoons where we are always comfortable, and everything is perfect,” says Martin. “And that’s not the human experience.”