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The History of Hot Cardio Workouts

Cardio exercise increases the level of your heart rate (HR) over a sustained period of time at a consistent level or with intervals of varying HR levels through the use of various body postures, and repetitions, or intervals of movement. Cardio workouts expand your body’s ability to process oxygen which enables more efficient metabolism for muscle growth and fat burn. Let’s explore the origins of this wildly popular form of fitness training practiced everywhere around the globe.

The history of cardio exercise began well before the advent of aerobics or the invention of the treadmill. In the beginning there was running and then came yoga. All exercise was practiced in the elements and was done for survival.

Cardio fitness has always been important, even since pre-historic times when humans had to venture out and run extensively to hunt for food. Primitive man’s need to survive required physical conditioning and cardio performance.

It is believed that the first recorded history of a cardio fitness program dates back to more than 3000 B.C. with the development of yoga. Yoga began in India primarily as a practice of meditation but evolved into many forms including those that developed into sequences of isometric postures.

Early Hatha Yoga with a focus on mental and physical strength dates back to the 11th century. Hindu texts exist from the middle ages that teach Hatha Yoga with instructions on postures, breathing, meditation and tantras which were used to systemize the workouts.

Yoga began in India “naturally” in the heat. Large parts of India consists of tropical and subtropical climates with temperatures routinely exceeding 120º Fahrenheit in the summer. The original hot yoga was indeed experienced in infrared as it was practiced in the outdoors exposed to sunlight and radiant heat from the energy of infrared light. Isometric yoga postures performed in a heated environment causes the heart rate to go up more quickly creating a better workout for the heart.


Any discussion about the history of cardio workouts has to include the advent of aerobics. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel from Oklahoma, is credited with the birth of aerobics. He coined the term “aerobics” in 1966 and then his book, Aerobics, was published in 1968. In the book he explained how aerobic exercise could prevent disease. He created a non-profit research organization in 1970 called the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX dedicated to development of lifelong health and wellness through preventive medicine. Dr. Cooper is known as the Father of Aerobics. I can remember my early days as a gym owner hearing the name Dr. Kenneth Cooper everywhere in the fitness and bodybuilding circles.

Jacki Sorenson, a dancer who created routines based on Dr. Cooper’s knowledge, coined the term “aerobic dance”. From that point, aerobic classes grew steadily in popularity with different fitness personalities who created new routines and different choreography.

Jazzercise came on the scene in the 1970’s developed by Judi Shepherd Missett who also began as a dance instructor who created fitness classes based on dance. Her routines were choreographed without the more difficult technical aspects of proper dance.

In addition to aerobics, a running boom began in the ’70’s inspired in part by the Olympics and propelled by the advent of better running shoes with more cushion to absorb the impact.


Gin Miller in 1989 invented step aerobics. She was inspired to do so when she used her porch steps to strengthen her knee. Her new aerobic method involved the use of a step as a low impact alternative with a choreographed routine set to music. Her program offered an exciting new alternative to aerobic dance. Eventually Reebok bought her out.

This new form of aerobics blew up so fast it was mind boggling. It grew rapidly because it allowed people to join in at lower levels of fitness, and because it provided a lower risk for injury. It seemed like overnight every gym in America had a step class. Even gyms without access to the actual Reebok steps made their own steps. At my small town gym back then we had wooden boxes made for customers to launch our own step aerobics program. I remember getting a lot of mileage for customers out of those wooden steps in our aerobics room!

The first step class I participated in was at a Gold’s Gym location that I owned in Jackson, MS. It was brutal, just like my first yoga session was years later. My step aerobics instructor, Dawn, who also was a nurse, tried and tried to convince me to take her class and finally one day I did. Man was I humbled by that experience. I should have stuck with it, but it was back to the StairMaster for me.

I suppose I found it difficult to change my cardio mindset as a former competitive bodybuilder. As a bodybuilder, cardio was a vital fat burning component to success onstage. I would use a stationary bike back then set on high resistance for an hour and I would wear full sweats with a towel around my neck to generate heat throughout my body. Heat is an important component to cardio training. Raising the body’s core temperature is necessary to elevate the HR to the desired level during exercise.


Jane Fonda and the VCR brought aerobics into the living room in the 1980’s. There have been numerous celebrity fitness videos since then. Then came P90X and Insanity that brought more intensity to the living room. Recently, Peloton popularized home cardio workouts connected to live streaming instruction on cardio machines.


Most people still think of two things when they contemplate a cardio workout, a cardio machine or an aerobic class. That understanding of cardio training is changing rapidly though. The fact is, cardio workouts have evolved well beyond those two things. Yoga is an excellent form of cardio training and is gaining popularity over aerobic dance.

Hot yoga takes cardio to an even higher level. Modern hot yoga began with Bikram in the early 1970’s and eventually evolved into other forms of heated yoga including Vinyasa, and even spilled over into forms of hot Pilates.  


The HOTWORX franchise began in 2017 and brought with it a wholesale change to the cardio workout landscape. HOTWORX provides an entirely different way to do cardio through the use of virtual instructors and a patented infrared fitness sauna in combination with HIIT and Isometric workouts. HOTWORX added infrared energy to the workout equation. HOTWORX’s app driven 24 hour heated infrared workout studios are using patented workout sauna technology to deliver next level cardio.

HOTWORX Hot Cycle first launched to the world on a Facebook live in 2016. The idea was to provide a fast HIIT workout for lower body work and of course for cardio. Now, millions of hot cycle workouts later, it has become one of the most popular ways to do cardio in the country.

In the summer of 2021 HOTWORX launched a patented new rower to the market, changing the game once again for cardio. Known as the Thunder Row, it is the only fitness rower with independent handles driven by dual water turbines for an incredible workout called Hot Thunder.


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Stephen P. Smith, MA
CEO and Creator of HOTWORX, Author, Former National Collegiate Bodybuilding Champion and Arena Football Player, Certified Professional Trainer


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