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What to do when training in the heat

Summer is here and that means more opportunity to take your workout outside and into the sun, but there are also a few precautions to be aware of when you’re training in the heat. This is largely down to you losing more fluids through sweat, as well as how acclimatized you are to the heat. As the study shows: “the most important intervention one can adopt to reduce physiological strain and optimize performance is to heat acclimatize.”

When you train in the heat there is a higher perceived effort that can come into play when you add more intensity to your workout. It has previously been shown that as temperatures rise, so too does the amount of time it takes for you to finish your workout due to: dehydration, increased heart rate and reduced blood flow, which means less oxygen being transported to your muscles.

As stated before, this is only when you are not acclimatized to training in the heat. A 2010 study found that heat acclimation improves aerobic exercise performance in temperate-cool conditions and provides the scientific basis for employing heat acclimation to augment physical training programs. Therefore, training in the heat and becoming acclimatized to it can lead to better overall performance because your body is able to withstand the physiological adaptations that your body goes through when exerting itself in the heat.

One way to properly acclimatize, apart from training more in the heat, is to start slowly and build up to pushing harder in the heat so that your body has time to normalise to the conditions. You shouldn’t aim at starting at a high intensity and then expending all your energy early on.  

But when it comes to heat training there are also a number of other interventions you can employ before and during your bouts of exercise in order to ensure that you are able to train properly and not put yourself at risk:

What can you do?

Train earlier in the morning or in the evening, and try to avoid training in the midday sun where temperatures are at their highest. You will sweat more when temperatures are higher, as well as expend more energy. By training before the sun is at its strongest you put yourself at less risk of sunburn and decreased performance through energy expenditure.

You will experience significantly higher amounts of fluid loss, which can affect performance. Always stay hydrated when training in the heat. You should always have a bottle of water handy where you can replenish fluids that you are losing throughout your workout. Be mindful of how much water you are drinking though, and only use it to keep yourself hydrated.

You don’t only have to drink water. You can also use it to cool down by pouring it over your body so that you can keep your body temperature at an equilibrium. A number of athletes, from runner to cyclists, help their bodies cool down in the heat by pouring water over their heads and keeping their body temperatures down. This will help to stave off exhaustion and keep you feeling refreshed. 

Water is not the only essential, but electrolytes as well. This includes getting enough sodium, potassium, magnesium and using glucose-rich gels and sports drinks. Sodium allows you to absorb fluids better and without it you will feel a drop in performance. You also need glucose for energy to burn and potassium and magnesium to ensure that you don’t suffer from cramping during your run or cycle.

One thing that is sometimes overlooked but its needed is warming up before you exercise. A thorough warm up is vital in the heat because it lets your evaporative cooling system get up to speed before you do. Jumping right into a hard effort spikes your body temperature before you’ve started sweating enough for your system to begin cooling you. By warming up your body will be prepared to deal with the stress of exercise and will be more limber. 

Always wear breathable clothing in the heat that you are comfortable in. Wearing the wrong clothing can prevent your body from sweating properly and acclimatizing to heat. Wearing comfortable clothing will also prevent chafing and will keep your performance levels higher. 

Training in the heat, especially during summer, is something that everyone should consider doing. You don’t need to do it every day but it also allows you to vary up your workout and training outdoors has psychological benefits, as well as physiological. By taking the aforementioned precautions you’ll find that you will benefit more from training outside in the heat.



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