You know who you are, I’ve seen you out there. Heat Advisory alert pops up on your weather app? Humbug! Meteorologists tell us the air quality is poor, the UV Index is off the charts, stay inside and avoid any unnecessary activity outdoors? Nonsense! Clearly, that doesn’t apply to you. You’re a road warrior. You run marathons, kick butt in triathlons and cycle for hours on your CrossFit “recovery” days. Being sidelined by heat domes is for amateurs. For you, the warnings are a double dog dare.
I don’t like messing with my workout schedule or pulling back on the intensity and detest missing a workout. But, consider me solidly behind the meteorologists and doctors who urge us to put safety first when it comes to working out in extreme heat and humidity. It’s a combination of my personal ultra-sensitivity to these conditions and probably knowing a little too much about the risks as part of my education as a trainer. Yet I know a lot of my fellow fitness enthusiasts don’t share my aversion to hot weather workouts.
Look, I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help. I understand these kinds of conditions do tend to come in waves. If it were a matter of a day here or there, we could manage a work around, no problem. But, when we have a week to ten days of this living hell, we’re not going to take that kind of time away from training. The question is: How to work out at the frequency, intensity and duration desired without a drop in performance or risk of serious health consequences in extreme conditions?
- Rule #1: Accept the body’s limitations. No matter your fitness level and conditioning, you’re human. It’s a fact the human body will institute a series of body-cooling responses under extreme hot and humid conditions that will reduce performance compared to the same workout under normal conditions. It’s a necessary response to keep the body’s core temperature from rising. There’s no work-around, nothing you can do to over-ride the sympathetic nervous system.
- Rule #2: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Once you understand and accept Rule #1, you must also come to realize that pushing yourself through your regular routine under extreme conditions greatly increases the risks for dehydration and heat stroke. It’s a high risk, no reward situation.
Every Tuesday, you do your longest run at race pace and this coming Tuesday is predicted to have the highest heat index of the week. If you put your ego above your training goals, you may decide to change nothing. However, your performance output will be less compared to most other Tuesdays and you run the risk of adverse effects that could affect some or all of your training for the rest of the week.
Wouldn’t it be better to adjust your usual schedule to maximize output for the entire week? Perhaps Friday is normally your rest day and the heat wave is predicted to break on Thursday. Under those circumstances, I’d recommend swapping your rest and endurance run that week and re-arrange your remaining training days for the week accordingly.
If the prediction is for one of the dreaded heat domes that can last over a week, acclimatization is the best strategy. This requires a gradual build-up in distance and intensity over several days while following the guidelines listed below. This trains your body to adapt to the conditions.
Everyone adapts at her own pace, so you need to listen to your body to determine when you’ve fully adapted and can safely workout under hot and humid conditions. For some, full acclimatization can be achieved in a few days, for others, it can take a week or more. However, even when fully acclimated, safety guidelines are a must once the heat index climbs above 80°. It’s not advisable, even for the most fit, to exercise outdoors when the heat index is above 90°.
Guidelines for Exercise When Heat Index > 80° F
- Hydration: 2 hours prior to exercise drink 17-20 oz of water. Sip water while exercising – approximately 7-10 oz every 10-20 minutes. Following exercise, drink 16-24 oz for every one-hour period of your workout. Some of the post-workout hydration should be in the form of a sports drink to replenish sodium, glucose and electrolytes. If your workout is longer than an hour, a sports drink or gel while exercising is also recommended.
- Attire: To assist your body in the cooling process, wear shorts, sleeveless top, and short socks made of synthetic, light-colored fabrics that wick away moisture. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin and wear UV proof sunglasses and/or brimmed hat or visor.
- Time of Day: Avoid the hottest time of day when sunlight is direct and shade is in short supply – 11am to 5 pm. Opt for right after sunrise or just before sunset when the sun is low on the horizon. Keep an eye on the sky and forecasts, high heat and humidity increases the likelihood of dangerous storms.
- Intensity: Avoid any high-intensity or prolonged endurance exercise. These are the days to do moderate intensity, shortened workouts.
It’s important to note that exercising in high heat and humidity is safe only for conditioned, healthy individuals. It is not safe to exercise outdoors for individuals who have cardiovascular, pulmonary or circulatory conditions or for those who are de-conditioned when the heat index exceeds 80 degrees. For more information on hot weather exercise, click here.
I, for one, am looking forward to a forecasted temperature that begins with the number eight. Looks like I’ll have to wait a while. 🙁 In the meantime, be fit, be smart, be safe and stay cool.