How to beat the heat
Brendan Rolfe, DipA, PTS, NWS
The heat is on! Before you head outdoors into the sun, humidity, and smog, learn how to exercise safely to avoid overexertion during the dog days of summer.
Summer is here! Don’t let summer smog and sweltering temperatures stop you from getting a great workout while staying safe. Know your weather, plan for heat, and sweat in safety.
During the winter we put in our time on the Stairmaster whilst smirking at the snow, left our share of tread on the mill while grimacing at the pounding rain, and even grunted out the last few reps of a set of squats while bah-humbugging the winter doldrums of the world outside. But now the season we live for is here.
However, just like winter, summer is not without its dangers. Exercising incorrectly in the summer heat can lead to serious concerns such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke (which is considered to be a medical emergency). To enjoy the finest fitness and activities summer has to offer, plan ahead for the temperatures, know your timelines, and simply read on!
Although we can be tempted to throw on our running shoes and bolt outside for a jog in the sunshine whenever motivation strikes, it’s important to plan ahead—especially in the summer.
When exercising in the heat, our portable water bottles will definitely come in handy. However, if we don’t hydrate for a couple of hours prior to our outdoor sweat sessions, we’re already behind.
The following are some simple guidelines to observe for proper pre-, during, and post-exercise hydration in the heat: consume 3 cups (750 mL) of a noncaffeinated fluid two hours before exercise and 2 to 4 cups (500 mL to 1 L) every hour during exercise. Also make sure to replenish fluids lost during exercise, so if you weigh yourself before and after, you should aim to equal the same weight. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines; each individual is slightly different and may have slightly different requirements.
Choose your workout gear wisely
If you typically opt for a skin-tight, dry-fit, thermal spandex top, you may want to reconsider. On hot and smoggy days, wear loose, breathable clothing that permits ventilation and cooling. Cotton and bamboo are both lightweight, breathable fabrics. Also, choose light-coloured clothing when possible.
Trouble in paradise
When our workouts are underway and we’re feeling fantastic and “in the zone,” it can be tempting to overexert ourselves. Even in the heat, it’s entirely possible to feel energized enough that you decide to push yourself to try something new and challenging. However, you may want to think twice about the few rounds of lunges with a twist, bench dips with a hip lift, and push-ups you’re thinking of trying out.
Symptoms of overexertion
During a summer workout, feeling hot, physically exhausted, and a little light-headed likely isn’t just feeling the benefits of fitness, but rather feeling the effects of overexertion and possible heatstroke or sun stroke.
Other signs that you have pushed too hard, too fast in the hot summer sun include
Although cessation of sweat production can be a sign of heatstroke, it is not always a good indicator, as some forms of heatstroke are accompanied by sweating. Furthermore, general heat exhaustion can also be accompanied by heavy sweating.
What to do
In all cases of overexertion, stop exercising immediately, find a shady area (or if nearby, a cool building), and sit or lie down and rehydrate as soon as possible. If you still feel faint, discombobulated, or at all “off,” be sure to check in at your nearest walk-in clinic to make sure everything is okay.
The fine print of summer sweat
Before you become scared of working out hard, working out outside, or even leaving your home, you should be aware that I am a huge advocate of outdoor workouts; they can be much preferable to a smelly, humid gym any day of the week.
In fact, a recent study of highly trained athletes documented better results in those who were heat-acclimatized and working out in the heat than their gym-going counterparts. This is because blood volume increases, allowing the heart to pump more blood to our muscles, ultimately creating a stronger muscle contraction.
Other benefits of exercising outside include the vitamin D our skin can absorb, a refreshing change of scenery, and best of all, a free venue to get our sweat on!
Of course, there are some important things to be mindful of when exercising al fresco, namely, the potential to overheat, the potential for sunburn, and a greater potential for overexhaustion. In order to protect yourself from sunburns, be sure to follow proper sun safety by covering up or wearing natural sunscreen, and avoiding the sun during hours when it is at its strongest.
The verdict? Push yourself, but not at the expense of health.
Extra tips to keep you safe