With Or Without You, AC

Back in the summer of 2006, I did weight training at a street gym called Black Gym in Santa Cruz, Manila. Black gym is one of the oldest gyms in the town; it opened in 2001. Walking into Black Gym was like walking into a time-warp to the 1980s. Most of the equipment are old. It doesn’t have an air conditioning system but two big fans, which only stayed in the corner most of the time and when they were used, they’re positioned away from the gymgoers.

Working out at Black Gym in the dog days then was like doing Bikram yoga in a room heated to 40 °C with only a 40 percent humidity or running on the fiery sands of Sahara Desert. The owner/trainer (Nathan) and his gym rats (beasts) trained us to work out in the heat─the hardcore way as they say. I went with the flow and I’m very glad I did.

Our training was based on what the trainer and his beasts say as to the basics down to the incorporation of super sets (i.e., circuit training)─without aircon of course. Soon, I had to grasp the reasons why the owner and his beasts prefer working out without aircon over the “corporate-gym-kind” of workout. Their answers were all the same: To lose the toxins faster and to build a better stamina. The body’s ability to pulverize those toxins is a pervasive factor in its ability to lose weight and reach a healthy goal weight (Why Toxins and Waste Product Impedes Weight Loss). Refer to what Jolie Bookspan (healthline.com) and Chris Giblin (mensfitness.com) have to say about how hot environments contribute to a better stamina─later─in this article. These became the fulcrum of my workout.

Students Practice The Unique Bikram Yoga
Photo Credit: Cardy Getty Images (examiner.com)

For us at Black Gym, a workout should quickly drench us in sweat, but with the windows open while the fans are gusting a few feet away from the corner. The latter is true only when women are in the house. The remarkable improvement of my weight training happened at this gym. I broke my abdominal crunches, bench press, and dead lift records (among others) respectively in a matter of six months. This entailed being completely drenched in sweat and completely drained in every session nevertheless the feeling was heavenly. After eight months, I got the upshot I wanted. I can’t help but compare this to the stories of my colleagues who were working out in air-conditioned gyms. Suffice to say the result I got was a far cry from theirs.

By the second quarter of 2008, my family had to move to Spazio Bernardo in Bagbag, Quezon City. This was the time I decided to settle with my medium built body─the ideal built for fitted shirts. I just then went to the gym, which is a part of said place’s amenities, to do some familiar workout routines, which I knew can help maintain my physique. The sad part is, the gym has an air-conditioning system. I had to assertively ask fellow exercisers to turn it off from time to time. This later led to being asked, especially by the beginners, about why I prefer working out without aircon. My response was always tied to the trainer and his beasts’ without the corresponding explications yet it still worked to my advantage.

Now, history is repeating itself in a not so easy way at our accommodations’ gym here in Saudi Arabia. It goes without saying that I have fellow exercisers who argue that their used-to-be trainers from their famous fitness centers respectively in the Philippines advised them the very opposite of my workout fulcrum: aircon while working out is a must. I had to revisit the modern dossier for some sort of a refresher course in Workout 101.

Thank heavens healthline.com has Jolie Bookspan’s article titled “Exercise in the Heat”. According to the article, it’s a myth that you must avoid sweating to stay healthy. Exercising enough to sweat makes you more flexible, increases many chemical reactions in your body that are healthy. I must say it’s clearer to me now why that extra warmth is imperative in Bikram yoga as it is to us. Sweat itself has compounds beneficial for the skin and body. A hot environment does have initial discomforts but it improves the aforementioned benefits as well as the ability to be comfortable in the heat.

Exercising in the heat makes positive changes in your body that improve your fitness. You increase blood volume, improve cooling ability, make changes in sweating, increase the vasculature that helps circulation, cooling and exercising at the same time, increase specific chemical compounds in the body that improve health and ability to exercise.

It’s also interesting to note that the Food and Wellness section of magazine.foxnews.com has an article titled “The Better Workout: Morning, Afternoon, or Evening” that promotes working out when the temperature peaks (i.e., in the afternoon and evening) because of two things: The body temperature peaks and its protein synthesis (the rate at which the muscles can repair and recover) also peaks.

When you exercise and increase body temperature, your body produces more of an interesting compound called heat shock protein. Heat shock proteins are families of proteins that do several things including preventing other proteins from damage by infection, ultraviolet light, starvation, heat, cold, and other harsh conditions. Heat shock proteins are thought to mobilize immune function against infections and diseases, even cancer.

Lastly, the website of the world’s number one selling fitness magazine, mensfitness.com, also supports the same standpoint. Their article titled “The Heatwave Workout” articulated some science behind how heat can help improve fitness levels. Researchers from the University of Oregon tracked the performance of 12 very high-level cyclists (10 male, two female) over a 10-day training period (with two days off in the middle) in 100-degree heat. Another control group did the exact same exercise regimen in a much more comfortable, 55-degree room. Both groups worked in 30 percent humidity.

At the end of the day, the thing that really baffles those who prefer working out with the AC blowing is giving up the idea of comfort it gives. The cold isn’t that bad, but the heat is usually better when exercising. To avoid the dreading threats of cramps and dehydration, which are usually the arguments of corporate gym trainers, try these tips to stay safe when the heat is on:

Drink up.  You obviously sweat more as it gets hotter and more humid, so you’ve got to make sure you’re replacing all those fluids as you run, bike, or do other workouts. It’s recommended to consume 16 to 24 ounces of water a couple hours before exercising in hot temperatures. Past that, take in another six to eight ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. If you’re looking to do something moderate for less than an hour, water should be fine, but anything more intense will require sports drinks to get those carbohydrates and electrolytes, he says.

Mind the humidity. Humidity is also a huge factor to take into account. The principle way in which the body cools itself during exercise is through sweat. It hits our skin’s surface and it evaporates to cool the body. In a humid environment, you don’t experience as much of that evaporative cooling effect because the environment is already pretty saturated with fluid. To consider moving activity indoors on days that are extremely hot and humid, since it just makes the environment particularly stressful on your body.

Don’t go overboard. Finally, know that you can still be in good shape without actually heat acclimating. This only goes to those who are very fit or competitive athletes who need to be ready for weather extremes or want to get an edge. (Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., Fitness Expert for the American Council on Exercise)

Of course, all of these don’t mean going out and cause yourself heat injury by overdoing your workout in a non aircon gym without thinking. It’s all about gaining the many benefits of exercising safely in the heat. It’s up to you to know your limits.

Postscript: For my fellow exercisers at our accommodations’ gym, please don’t forget that we all come from the toasty environment of the tropics. I hope you will consider working out without AC the next time around. Doing it will not only help you lose weight, it will also help you adapt better to Saudi Arabia’s prevailing climate.

Related Articles

Exercising in the Heat Safely at webmd.com

Tips for Working Out in the Summer Heat at shape.com

Are Hot Workouts Safe at greatist.com

12 Ways to Stay Active When It’s Too Hot to Work Out at shape.com

The Safest Ways to Exercise in the Heat at womenshealthmag.com


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mabel Kwong says:

    This was a very interesting read. It has never occurred to me that working out in an air-conditioned room isn’t as beneficial as working out in a non-air-con one. I always thought when we go to the gym, we should work out and sweat and lose toxins from our body, as your instructors have always mentioned. I guess some people are confused in the sense that if you get your heart beating fast in the gym sans sweating, then you’re getting a good workout. For a lot of people, good exercise is about moving your muscles and feeling tired, whether you sweat bucket loads or not doesn’t matter.

    There is exercising indoors sans air-con, and there is also exercising outdoors sans air-con too. If you’re after working out and sculpting a particular part of your body, then I assume you’d go for the gym. Outdoors, you can enjoy the good scenery as you exercise, do a certain sport like jogging or cycling.

    This is the first time I’ve heard of standing fans in a gym 😀


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      As long as we find time sweat, that’s already a good habit–enough. Sculpting the muscles is a byproduct.

      The standing fans. You were right. You know the ones that are for rooms supposedly? Those kinds. It’s not even an industrial fan. Well, street gym is a street gym.



      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        You are right. As long as we sweat when working out, it’s a productive exercise session. Sculpting muscles? I am sure you’re good at that. Maybe one day you can show me how to do so.

        Haha, I was actually thinking of the big metal industrial fans. Standing fans…such small fans but I suppose it’s enough to cool you down after the workouts 🙂


  2. rommel says:

    I think that’s brilliant! This way you actually get the right acclimation to the weather outside when you actually do work, or perform strenuous tasks.


    1. Sony Fugaban says:

      Thanks for being with me on this “preference”, Rom.

      Update/Good News: My fellow gym goers here are now doing the same.
      I was surprised actually. I had this article posted on my FB–with my fellow exercisers’ names in it–on the same day I published it. They didn’t say anything after that. So it’s very humbling on my part to have them succumbed.



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