Summer may be over, but the heat is still on potentially. Exercise in the heat is an important consideration since stress and hormones can change the way you tolerate heat and the way your natural cooling system works. I include some of the things I use below – no relationship with any of these companies. I just use them, love them, and am sharing them.
Exercise is a must for me! Managing safe exercise in the heat is a skill. Even after 34 years of outdoor exercise I am sabotaged by the elements sometimes too. It doesn’t matter where you are… middle of the Midwest beside a cornfield, a San Diego beach boardwalk, or the mountains, it can sneak up on you and crash a good workout instead of allowing you to crush it.
It takes more cognitive agility than fitness to manage workouts in the heat. You’ve got to be willing to adjust and know how much loss of water and electrolytes in sweat will change the impact.
If you ignore Mother Nature she’ll come back to bite you. A scheduled 5-mile run may need flipping to a 3-mile hike. A two-hour bike might be better for your fitness if you flip it to an hour swim. You may love summer and want to do those workouts outdoors, but you’ll be wiser, and fitter if you go into the A/C on certain days.
Check the heat index before you actually go. Then check your stress index. Stress reduces your ability to regulate heat and complicates things. So if you lost sleep last night (which increases stress) or had an emotional or taxing day recently be honest about not being Super Woman and adjust.
Stubbornly attempting to hit your workout goals (assuming you aren’t doing random exercise and you’ve got them!) will not make you more fit during heat. You will potentially sabotage yourself for future workouts. Once you push too hard and flirt with heat exhaustion or heat stroke it becomes threatening both in the moment and in the future you may be more prone to it. (Even dogs: trust me on this one).
- Hydrate before.
This big rule hasn’t changed much in 34 years I’ve been teaching fitness, nor the two before that when it was all about me. You pretty much have to be hydrated round-the-clock. That’s so much better than trying to chug 16 oz. before activity to get there. Simple ways to check:
- Your urine is light yellow (not perfectly clear: you can over do it)
- Your skin is a-mazing (if you go for a massage you get asked if you drink lots of water!)
- Your digestion and elimination are predictably good
- Go earlier than usual.
If you’ve got goals, or stress, and exercise in the heat is necessary to you, set that alarm earlier. You may love warm weather, heat, and sweating but you are still going to lose fluid, making your blood thicker and making it harder to get oxygen to working muscles. So loving hot weather or thinking if you’re fitter you’ll be fine is a myth. You may be more used to it than someone traveling – similar to altitude – but you’re not immune. Be smart.
- Reduce the duration, intensity, or both
I’m famous for saying make a plan, work the plan and that the last thing you want to do is the “feels like it” workout. However, you also need to assess your internal and external environment today and adjust accordingly.
If you lose an hour of sleep because you set the alarm early one morning a month traveling, that’s different than losing sleep tossing and turning all night. And if it’s 90 degrees and 80% humidity and you’re used to 30%, that’s going to require an adjustment.
You need salt. We’ve gone overboard in many cases with eliminating it. In fact, it’s some odd self-righteous thing people say! “No, I don’t use salt.” You need it for so many reasons I won’t go into here, but when it’s hot and you’re losing fluids in sweat you’re also losing electrolytes. It’s not the potassium (and it’s not the banana that has much of it in it if it were), it’s usually the salt that throws you off if you’re exercising sweating profusely.
Exercise in the heat means something different depending on your address. Having moved to the mountains 4 years ago from the Midwest (and spending summers in college in Louisiana) I had visible proof of how much salt I was losing. In the dripping sweat that’s true in humid environments you aren’t so sure unless you test. But in the dry mountain heat you don’t realize that sweat is wicked off you so fast into the environment that is far from saturated. What’s left is a salty residue. I was like a French fry after biking outdoors. You can check visors and dark colored shorts for evidence of salt but it’s much harder to detect in humid locations.
Nuun tablets offer some salt. I double up if it’s really hot and humid, or I add thumb “licks” of Base saltif I’m going to be out for more than a couple hours. (Long bike rides especially). Grape is my favorite.
- Skratch hydration
I too was a sports drink junkie years ago. But I would never drink gooey sticky Gatorade now. That goes for almost all sports drinks. Did you know that the sugar content actually speeds up dehydration? There is not enough of the stuff you need in it and too much of what you don’t.
Skratch hydration drinks were introduced to me since I’ve moved to Colorado. They’ve got far less sugar (and calories- so you can’t look to them for nutrition during extended activity). That said they have less salt as well.
What Skratch products do (a powder you mix with water) is make me more likely to drink fluids during exercise. My personal favorite is lemon/lime. For exercise in the heat wanting to drink is important!
On a bike it’s easier to carry with water bottle cages on your bike. For hands-free carrying on a longer hike or run I wear a Camelback. Short runs I either carry a small hand held bottle (and switch hands frequently) or I’ll wear a belt with small bottles tucked in it.
The key to hydration during exercise is drink early and drink often. You may be fine riding or running for an hour without fluid. (You should always carry some though – for you and your dog: trust me on that)! You don’t go the first hour not drinking if you’re going to hike or bike for three. You shoot for drinking a certain amount per hour or half hour so it’s constantly going in and you’re doing it like it’s your job.
Plan a route that takes you past a water fountain, a Casey’s, or your car (with a cooler and cold refills waiting) if you’re going to be out for longer times.