Exercising in the Heat 

Tips for training safely and effectively

By Jared Nieters

During the summer months in Virginia, extreme heat and humidity can make training for endurance sports much more difficult. However, if you wait for the weather to be perfect, you’ll either be forced indoors or your training will be inconsistent, improvement will be limited, and you’ll be left ill-prepared for events.

First and foremost, the adversity needs to be embraced. Positive change is stimulated when your body experiences discomfort. Once your training becomes easy, it likely ceases to be “training.”

With that in mind, there is no reason why your training should be complete agony. Temperatures in the 90s with high humidity can make walking across a parking lot a miserable experience. Additionally, in the high heat and poor air quality, training can be downright dangerous for all but the fittest.

However, there are a number of strategies to help make training in the heat more bearable.

Hydrate

Hydration is crucial even when training in the cold, and its importance in the heat is dramatically greater. Hydrating doesn’t just mean pounding water before and during training. Adequate hydration requires fluid consumption long before you’re thirsty. In fact, it begins days before exercise and requires much more than just water. Make sure you’re taking in a variety of electrolytes–calcium, magnesium, and sodium are crucial for the days when you’re going to be sweating profusely.

Get up early

To beat the heat during summer, exercise in the early morning hours when temperatures are lower.

Jared Nieters

Choose cooler routes

Temperatures aren’t the same across the Piedmont. Finding areas with plenty of shade is an obvious and easy way to avoid the highest temperatures. Many people don’t realize a variety of natural and manmade characteristics can create microclimates, which vary greatly even though they are geographically near each other. Creeks and rivers are natural air conditioners, where the cool, moving water can lower air temperatures nearby. Areas with lots of blacktop and large buildings comprised of glass and metal focus and retain heat, increasing the air temperature

Eat a cool breakfast

Choosing certain foods for breakfast can help you stay cooler than others. The process by which this strategy works varies from food to food. If a meal is hard to digest, your body will create more heat. Other foods facilitate hydration and can help cool your core. Great foods for summer include avocados, cucumbers, bananas, poppy seeds, yogurt, and mint.

Reduce your warm-up

It is crucial to prepare your muscles for exercising. However, in extreme temperatures, the risks of not being adequately warmed up for a fast start are outweighed by the potential for elevating core body temperatures too high–beginning the slide toward dehydration.

Ice

Our knowledge continues to grow regarding the benefits of treating your body with ice. Icing is an effective treatment to reduce the swelling of injuries, but it also helps cycle blood through your major muscle systems when applied post-exercise, all while cooling you down. Some athletes have even taken to wearing ice vests during warm-up. By keeping their core temperature cool, they are still able to adequately warm the primary muscles that will be used.

Acclimate

Sometimes avoiding the heat isn’t the best choice. If your race or event will occur in the heat of the day, you should experiment with training at that same time so the conditions don’t catch your body off guard. Gradually experiment with putting forth effort at these times, and slowly add time and intensity to workouts. This way you can stay tuned-in to your body’s reaction to the heat.

PHOTO CREDITS:

Photo 1 Credit Hector Strickland

Photo 2 Credit Jared Nieters

Photo 3 Credit Barry Croker

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