Hot tips on how to work out when temperatures soar
Summer heat can bring numerous exercise benefits, but that same heat can also take a toll on your health and wellness. Stay safe and fit, no matter what the thermometer says, with these hot tips.
The rising mercury can bring rising perks to your exercise routine, provided you take precautions and allow your body to acclimate to the hotter temperatures. But it’s a double-edged sword. You’ll need to watch for the unique health concerns related to summer workouts.
Pushing yourself in the heat—and proving you can indeed do it!—may help give you a competitive edge and more mental fortitude to break through future workout challenges.
As you adjust to high temperatures, you’ll see improvements in cardiovascular function and blood flow, which may boost performance.
Exercising in high heat may help your body to better flush out lactic acid and other metabolic waste created during your workout.
High-heat workouts may increase your power output.
Every year, hundreds of Americans succumb to heat illness. Similar Canadian statistics aren’t available, but we need only look at recent heat domes for a clue. For instance, the BC Coroners Service attributed 619 heat-related deaths to the extreme heat event that occurred in BC between June 25 and July 1, 2021.
“Never ignore heat exposure symptoms,” says Joseph Sudimack, MS, CSCS. “There’s an increased risk of having something mild, such as muscular cramps, or [something] life-threatening event [like] heatstroke.
“Heat-related muscular cramps are characterized by the muscle contracting involuntarily, with dehydration and electrolyte imbalance being the likely culprit,” Sudimack explains. “If your core temperature exceeds 40 C (104 F), you’re at risk of heatstroke.
“It’s easy to over-tax your body when temperatures are high,” warns personal trainer Jack Craig. Thankfully, you can build your summer body without succumbing to summer heat.
“Heat acclimation doesn’t happen all at once,” says Sudimack. He recommends slowly increasing the amount of time spent outdoors to help your body adapt to the heat. It can take 10 to 14 days to acclimate.
“Most guys will take off their shirts to stay cool,” says Craig. “This puts you at risk for dangerous sun exposure.” To combat this, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and consider covering up.
“It seems counterintuitive, but a thin, long-sleeved sun shirt can keep you cooler by providing evaporative cooling, and by keeping the sun off your skin,” Craig suggests.
The sun is at its strongest between 11 am and 3 pm. “Focus on exercising early in the morning or after the sun has set,” advised Sudimack. If those aren’t options, he suggests heading indoors to a gym.
“The most obvious tip is hydration,” says certified personal trainer Mark Bohannon. “Weigh yourself before and after exercise to know how much water weight you’ve lost, and then aim to drink a little more than you’ve lost.”
“Stop if you feel faint, have cramps, or if something doesn’t feel right,” warns Bohannon. “It’s not worth pushing through those barriers when it’s so hot. Save the high-intensity exercises for cooler days, and be sensible!”
“Extend the cool-down period,” suggests Calgary physical therapist Lalitha McSorley. “A cool-down period allows your heart rate to return to its normal state. Stretching and light cardio can help you cool down.”
Calgary-based personal trainer Michael Hamlin says some struggle to stay motivated when it’s hot, but adds that anyone can build the mental strength to stick with their workout regimen.
“Allow yourself to do less,” suggests Hamlin. For example, try a 15-minute jog instead of your normal hourlong run. “By choosing a small goal, I almost always do more, and I always reach my minimal goal. A mental process like this is amazing for stacking up small wins, and it makes it much easier to push through a mental hurdle like hot weather.”
Use a journal or app to monitor how your workouts improve as you acclimate to the heat. Seeing measurable progress is very motivating.
“The more you have to do before working out, the less likely you are to do it,” warns Hamlin. “I prepare for hot weather by having my [workout] always packed in my gym bag by the front door. It’s a great visual cue and increases the chances of you getting your workout in.”
“Be proactive,” suggests Joseph Sudimack. “If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Drink water before, during, and after exercise.”
Michael Hamlin recommends adding electrolytes if you sweat a lot or find yourself cramping. “The more we sweat, the more we lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride,” he explains. “Drinking electrolyte solutions helps replace these minerals, prevents cramping, and keeps performance up.”
“If your urine is darker than light yellow, you’re dehydrated,” warns Sudimack.
Compared to the global average, Canada’s climate is heating up at double the speed.