With temperatures suddenly climbing in Seattle to give us above average temperatures, I have heard from several athletes that they “don’t do well in heat.”
What happens to you physically and mentally when you train or race when it is hot? And what can training in heat do for you? Can training in the heat benefit you in other ways?
We have been talking a lot recently about the mental side of training and here is a perfect place to practice acknowledging the heat and that is it hot but rather than this being a negative instead make it something you can use.
Instead of whining to yourself about the heat, turn that mental conversation around and learn what the benefits to heat adaptation are. Training in heat and humidity can give you a big fitness boost if you are smart about it.
Bring on the heat!
The Struggle Bus
Does training in the heat feel uncomfortable and much harder for the same effort? You are not imagining it! Training in the heat is taxing to your body and physiologically harder. Exercise alone increases metabolic heat production and when you add external heat and humidity to this, athletic performance can decline. You may feel like you are working harder (higher perceived effort), your breathing may feel more labored or you may see an increase in your heart rate. Bottom line, it feels a lot harder to train in the heat.
Sometimes it may not take much heat to make it feel much harder. Coach Lesley experienced this earlier this year when doing an event in Arizona. Training in Seattle had been done in temperatures in the 30-40 degree fahrenheit range. On race day temperatures were 70-73 degrees. For Arizona standards , temps in the low-70s are usually quite comfortable and not considered hot. It didn’t necessarily feel hot, but since Coach had trained in temperatures 30+ degrees cooler, she had trouble since she was not acclimatized.
Wind and direct sunlight can increase the effects of heat making moderately hot days have the physiological effect of even hotter days. Even the surface of what we run or bike on can also play a role. Think of running or biking on newly laid asphalt in direct sunshine. HOT! Then there is humidity. Higher humidity affects your sweat rate and makes it harder for your body to cool and can increase the effects of heat as well.
So you ask, why does this matter to me if I am only going to pick events in cool temperatures? Read on, my friend.
There are many cool (HA! see what we did there?) aspects about human bodies’ ability to adapt and here is the best part: with proper acclimatization, your body can adapt to exercising in the heat. Even if you don’t particularly need to plan for a hot event or warm training all the time, adding in heat training can still be of benefit.
Some of the ways heat training can help all of us:
All of these benefits add up to the ability to perform better in a wider range of environments because all of these things are your body learning to function more efficiently. Besides all of these positive effects, heat training will help you to feel more comfortable while working out in warm conditions.
Where do I sign up?!
Settle down and make sure you are planning well for your heat training. Not every run needs to be in warmer conditions and you’ll need to be prepared. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
In general, you should be well-hydrated and understand how your body reacts to the need for increased electrolytes. Plan to add short bouts of heat training. Expect your pace to be slower and for it to feel harder. Work on the mental conversations you are having with yourself and remind yourself that the only way to get better at working out in the heat is to do it! Learn to be okay with the discomfort.
It can be easy to overdo heat training and to feel beat down if every run is in heat so make sure to plan for that. If you are in very hot climates try to move some workouts indoors or find early AM or late PM times that are a bit cooler. If there is no way to avoid warmer temps, modify the workouts and keep efforts shorter until you adapt
Adjusting to the Heat
Not everyone needs to be mindful of heat training all of the time. Think about how this might apply to you. Would you benefit from heat training and if this is for an event, when should you focus on heat acclimatization?
Ideally planning for 6 - 10 workouts over a month leads to the best adaptations. But this is not always realistic. Even just aiming to do some heat training for two to three weeks before an event can be useful. Make sure to leave your last week before an event for little to no heat training. At that point, your training is done and overtaxing your system can be detrimental.
If you don’t live where it is hot or don’t have the option to train when it is hot, how can you do some heat training? One way is to wear multiple layers for workouts. This means wearing an extra long sleeve shirt, maybe pants or compression socks or even a vest on days when you normally would run in shorts and a t-shirt.
Another way is to use a sauna or hot tub starting with 5-10 minutes and working your way up to 20 - 30 minutes if you have the time. If you don’t have that kind of time don't fret, even short exposure two to three times per week can have benefits.
Embrace the Heat!
We are lucky here in the Pacific Northwest that our warmer weather season is relatively short and not nearly as tough as most of the US or world. We have the option of enjoying the weather and using heat as a fantastic training tool that it is!
For those who face endless months of heat it can get tiring and mentally draining. Try to pick several workouts to do in the heat and embrace the heat for those workouts. Then try to find a way to do some of the other workouts in cooler settings.
The key for all of us is to learn to embrace the discomfort and be able to turn the negative chatter in our heads about how uncomfortable we are around to talk more about all of the good things that will come from this. And if nothing else for those of us here in Seattle, remember that before you know it, it’ll be 40 degrees and raining sideways. Good luck getting in heat training then!