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Exercising in the Heat: Prepping Your Body for the Summer

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I distinctly remember the first summer I spent in Miami. It was hotter than Hades and suffocatingly humid. Not exactly ideal conditions for exercise. Coming from Oregon, I had little exposure to extreme temperatures, and my first attempts at running outside failed miserably.

But not all was lost.

The following year I entered specialized training – military style calisthenics and distance running – mostly outdoors in 80-90°F (27-33 °C) weather. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but not impossible either.

Current research on exercising in the heat demonstrates the body’s incredible ability to adapt and thrive amidst hot conditions. If done properly, our bodies acclimate surprisingly well to heat training, resulting in performance improvements, in particular, lap/pace times and increased VO2 max (indicative of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.).

Even so, exercising outdoors is a psychological experience. Running in the sunshine is like pure adrenaline to me. It’s very liberating and refreshing, especially after several dreary months of cold, rainy weather. And, honestly, who actually enjoys working out indoors when there’s such awesome weather to be had. Not me, that’s for sure.

Nine months training in the Miami sun was agony at times, but it taught me many valuable lessons. Nowadays, when the temperatures rise, I’m prepared. I don’t shy away from the heat. I embrace it and, without fail, my pace time always improves.

That alone makes me a believer.

Here are my top tips for beating the summer heat:

  • Acclimate your body to warmer temps – slowly and consistently. It takes between 10-14 days of heat exposure for your body to adapt. Every athlete is different – body composition, fitness level and overall health all play a critical role. Rule of thumb, train at lower-than-normal intensity, take frequent rest periods when needed, and be patient.
  • Consume adequate fluids before, during and after physical activity. Increased sweating leads to higher electrolyte loss that must be replaced on an on-going basis. Make sure you drink electrolyte water throughout your workout. Coconut water is an excellent choice because it contains the “big five” electrolytes: calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous.
  • Eat. Fueling your body is essential to muscle integrity and performance. Forget fasted cardio. Eating carbs helps the body adapt to the higher physiological stress workload during heat training. My favorite top-up food (mid-run) is dates, an easily digested, quick-release sugar snack that keeps your glycogen levels stable.
  • Apply sufficient sunscreen. Waterproof works best to avoid stingy eyes from dripping sweat. I use SPF 50 to avoid a “farmer’s tan”.
  • Wear loose, non-cotton, breathable clothing. You need moisture-wicking fabric to aid evaporation, but also choose lighter colors to minimize heat absorption.
  • Monitor your heart rate. Exercising in heat stresses your cardiovascular system, which is busy supplying more blood to the skin to cool it down. Use an HR monitor, like the TICKR X, to train within safe intensity levels. Do not “push your limits” in the Red Zone and keep high-intensity interval training to a minimum.
  • Get adequate rest. Sleeping in a cool air-conditioned room aids recovery and soothes parched, sun-kissed skin. Aim for at least 7-10 hours, alongside scheduled rest days.

Next time the temperatures rise, don’t sneak off to your local gym – embrace the heat! Take advantage of the good weather while you can…god knows its days are fleeting.
Profile PhotoRachael is an accomplished athlete, mother and writer. She holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Besides a passion for health and fitness, her interests include community service, reading, traveling, and pretty much anything adventurous, epic and adrenaline-inspiring.

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