Summer training necessitates thoughtful modifications to your workout plan. But, from intelligent hydration to a focus on recovery, with a few simple alterations you can continue to exercise smartly, and efficiently, despite the heat.
Working out during the hottest months can pose a challenge, both to your fitness goals, and health.
According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, when exercising in the heat: “the magnitude of physiological strain imposed by exercise-environmental stress depends on the individual's metabolic rate and capacity for heat exchange with the environment.” In other words, we’re all affected in different ways.
Here are some hot tips to help you make the most of your summer workouts without putting yourself at risk.
According to the same NLM study, “aerobically fit persons who are heat acclimatized and fully hydrated have less body heat storage and perform optimally during exercise-heat stress.” So it’s vital to stay hydrated.
“I use a carbohydrate/water solution. 80g of carbohydrate and 500ml of water,” says endurance runner and SunGod ambassador Tom Evans, who recently became the first Brit to win the 100 mile, 40°C Western States Endurance Race. “I aim to drink half a liter per hour.”
Evans thinks rehydration is more important than water-loading prior to your workout. “If it’s hot, I weigh myself before and after my workout. Roughly, 1kg of weight lost means I need to drink 1 liter of water,” Evans says, drawing on data from BUPA. “In hotter conditions, I’ll typically rehydrate with one and a half times the amount I have lost just to build up water reserves.”
Clothing is your first line of protection against the sun. Charly Wright Brand, manager of sportswear brand boobydoo and an Orangetheory fitness coach, suggests lightweight, breathable clothing in light colors which won’t absorb the heat. “Wicking fabrics, ventilated mesh wing panels, and breathability features are your friends,” she says. “The items closest to your skin should be the best at keeping moisture and heat away."
If that’s not quite doing the trick, you can take it one step further. “If you're doing an intensity session – such as HIIT on the beach or in the park – the key thing is to keep your core body temperature as cold as possible,” says Evans. “Some people will also wear an ice vest, or you can make your own ice bandana.” With your core temperature managed, you can focus on performance instead of feeling uncomfortable.
In summer, what you carry with you is just as important as what you wear. “In hot weather it’s vital to carry water, and protective equipment,” says Evans. “I always wear a cap to keep the sun off my face or neck.”
A good pair of UV sunglasses is also vital, both to protect your eyes, and to reduce glare, helping you safely see the path ahead. “An 8k lens allows me to see the trails way better, especially if I’m hot and fatigue is setting in,” says Evans. You might also consider a bandana to keep the sweat out of your eyes, and a lightweight rucksack with your food of choice.
Heading out on the hottest day of the year and trying to bag a 10k PB is foolish, especially so if you haven’t trained in the heat before. “The most important intervention one can adopt to reduce physiological strain and optimize performance is to heat acclimatise. Heat acclimatisation should comprise repeated exercise-heat exposures over 1–2 weeks,” write the authors of a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Even if you are used to the heat, you still need to be smart, as Brand explains. “If you are outdoors, choose to train in a shaded location and be ready to move or adapt your session to stay cool,” she says. “Plan to train early in the morning or later at night when temperatures are lower. If you are indoors, ideally train somewhere that has air conditioning, fans and plenty of access to water.”
Working out in summer is just harder. We tire more easily, and feel the strain for longer. A 2017 study found working out in hot conditions can have “significant increases in internal body temperature”. How long we take to recover is dependent on a variety of factors, including age, but a delay in cooling down can lead to “disturbances in cardiovascular function”. To combat this, it’s vital that we allow ourselves enough time to properly recover post-workout – especially when it’s hot.
"Among the recovery strategies tested by athletes, the most successful appears to be cryotherapy,” Brand says. “For those recovering at home, cold water submersion/topical cooling has been proven to be successful in reducing deep muscle temperature, blood flow and metabolism at the muscle site,” she adds. Reducing tissue temperature via cooling has also been shown to mediate secondary damage derived from mechanical stress according to a Frontiers in Sports and Active Living review into post-exercise recovery. A cold shower it is, then.
Hot weather training requires us to adapt. “One of the best methods to optimize your training during the hot months is to avoid the heat altogether,” says Farren Morgan, founder of The Tactical Athlete training method. “If your exercise includes extensive outdoor cardio, try using a treadmill to keep your performance high, and minimize heat-related health risks.”
If you are training outside, pay close attention to how you feel. “When you notice any signs of overheating, such as excessive sweating, dizziness, or fatigue, take breaks, seek shade, hydrate, and cool down until you feel ready to continue,” warns Morgan – these conditions can become life-threatening if unattended.
“Adjust your effort when exercising in hot weather,” adds Evans. “If you normally run eight miles in an hour, in the heat it may only be seven. Focus on time not distance.”
Remember, any workout is better than no workout at all. However you tackle it, try to enjoy the warm weather, it won’t last forever.
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