Beating the Heat: How to Perform Well When It’s Hot
The crisp, cool mornings and evenings of winter and spring have said their final farewells for the year. While there still may be a couple of days left where temperatures stay in a sweet spot for rigorous outdoor exercise as we head into the Summer, hot, humid days are coming — we will all need to beat the heat.
Chasing personal records in the fall, winter, and spring months has become a popular pastime for fitness lovers. But pushing oneself to the limit in the dead of summer requires both immense determination and preparedness. Working out in blistering temps can be downright dangerous without the right gear and hydration.
1. Protecting Yourself: Hydration
Few things can be more limiting or dangerous than finding yourself dehydrated and stuck out in the heat. Some people may be able to get away with cardio or weight lifting in higher temperatures without drinking the recommended amount of water, but it’s never a good idea. When the temperature is elevated and you’re planning on heading out for a trail run, bike ride, or other activity that will take you further away from your base, it’s an even worse idea.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen within a very short amount of time, and are far more likely to affect you if you are underhydrated or not properly acclimatized to the season. Signs of both include but are not limited to: headaches, dizziness, nausea, and a fast pulse) tend to come on rapidly. Ensure you know the signs and symptoms of heatstroke and heat exhaustion so you can be aware of early indicators in yourself and others.
Proper hydration cannot be attained by chugging water just before or during activity alone. It takes time for your body to absorb fluids. Anyone who plans to train in the heat should consider drinking far more water than they normally would in the days leading up to activities and during an activity. If you’re planning on pushing yourself harder than usual, this is even more important.
According to medical experts, in general, adults should consume a minimum between 2.7 and 3.7 liters of water per day — regardless of activity level. To establish a more accurate estimate of your minimum daily water intake, divide your body weight in pounds by two and drink that number of ounces each day.¹
Staying adequately hydrated during and after physical activity requires additional water intake. As a general guideline, the American Council on Exercise provides the following water intake recommendations before, during, and after heightened activity:
- 17 to 20 ounces 2 to 3 hours before exercising
- Another 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before exercising
- 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise
- 8 ounces no more than 30 minutes following
It’s always a good idea to carry a refillable water bottle throughout the day to stay hydrated. Hydration packs are also a great resource to stay hydrated or cool down on runs, bike rides, or other outdoor sports.
Wearing light, loose-fitting clothing, workout shirts, and running shorts, ideally with SPF protection, is a great way to prevent sunburn and other long-term maladies caused by spending too much time under a beating sun.
Moisture-wicking shirts and shorts are also a great option for staying dry and preventing painful chafing.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, neck gaiters have become a common garment for men and women to cover their faces. However, when dipped in water and chilled or frozen before outdoor activities, they are a great tool to stay cool, especially during shorter workouts. Cold packs and cooling towels are also crucial for cooling down quickly.
4. Planning and Location Tracking
Before you head outside, it’s always a good idea to plan a route and let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone. Always seek out routes with shade and optional exit points in case you start feeling symptoms of heat-related illness.
GPS systems, activity trackers and GPS-enabled watches, and other devices are the perfect tools to keep a log of routes and let others know where you are. Some even come with emergency features that alert friends or authorities of potentially dangerous impacts or other risks when sensed.
5. Heat Acclimatization
Heat acclimatization is a strategy many athletes and outdoor workers use to train their bodies to respond more favorably to extreme temperatures.
The idea is that after progressively increasing exposure to elevated temperatures, your body adapts and increases its efficiency in elevated temperatures. After systemically exposing yourself to heat, sweating begins to start earlier in a workout. While the volume of sweat increases, the body holds on to more electrolytes and conserves energy.
Circulation also stabilizes, increasing your ability to keep a lower core temperature and heart rate. Blood flow also increases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acclimatization can take 7 to 14 days or longer for those newer to high temperatures.
Just because you’ve uploaded a ride or run to Garmin Connect or Strava doesn’t mean you’re finished. When temperatures are high, recovery is more important than ever.
First, make sure you don’t sit around in wet clothes after you finish your activity. Get into something light, loose, and dry to cut down on annoying chafing. Take time to listen to your body, and give yourself more time to recharge and rehydrate before going after another tough session on the trail or track.
Another great way to quickly recover from the heat is to plan to end your outdoor activities near water. Find a swimming hole or pool to dip into as a pick-me-up when you feel your feet starting to cook on the asphalt.
7. Final Thoughts on Beating the Heat
Never underestimate the toll excessive heat can take on your body.
One of the best ways to keep yourself safe outside when it’s hot is to buddy up. Finding a partner for outdoor exercise will keep you both safe and make activities more enjoyable.
But whether exercising alone or in a group, make sure you take steps to remain hydrated, cool, and prepared for unforeseen circumstances. Use tools, including hydration packs, fitness trackers, and appropriate clothing.
Taken together, these steps will keep exercise during sweltering summer months safe and enjoyable. If you play your cards right, you may see even stronger performances when temperatures start to fall again.
- 10 Tips for Staying Hydrated During the Summer Heat – FrederickHealth.org
- Don’t Let the Heat Keep You From Sweating: 5 Ways to Safely Exercise in the Heat – American Council on Exercise
- Heat Cramps, Exhaustion, Stroke – National Weather Service
- Heat and Athletes – CDC
- Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness – CDC