It’s not just you, when you’re exercising in the heat, it is harder.

Our bodies are constantly working to maintain something called homeostasis – essentially the optimal body state for all things to function well and keep us alive (pretty important I’d say!). What makes this tricky is that there’s nothing “status quo” about the environment in which we’re trying to maintain that state of balance. So our bodies are constantly responding (without our awareness) to stressors in our environment – heat, wind, humidity, pollutants, just to name a few. And our body simply takes it in stride. A whole symphony of systems work to maintain optimal water balance and body temperature specifically so our bodies can function at a cellular level.
When it’s hot out your body is under heat stress. It has to actively work to cool the body to maintain optimal temperature. It does this through sweating. which means that when it’s hot not only is your body temperature a consideration, but water balance is also at risk. So it’s primary goal (read: energetic purpose) is to maintain your homeostasis (read: not slay that HIIT workout).
What does this mean? When you’re working out in the heat – your performance will suffer. Period.
Further, because we lose significant water and electrolytes during a heavy sweat session in the heat – our recovery also suffers.
Say what? Yup.
When you exercise you are breaking down muscle tissue (at microscopic levels). You actually get stronger as you rest and recover. In order to rebuild and become stronger, your tissues need the building blocks of protein…and water!
So in the heat you’re not only losing some of the quality of the workout session, you’re also likely not getting the potential benefits either because even if you hydrate like a boss – you’re likely getting somewhat dehydrated! #truthbomb
So why exercise in the heat at all? Well, if you can avoid it, good question! But there may be many! For example if you have an event like a hike or run that you want to train for that you’ll be doing at heat – you’ll need to prepare your system to tolerate this stress through training (smart training). Or frankly, if you don’t exercise in the heat, it means you end up not moving your awesome body for a considerable number of days over the course of the summer – which in a big picture health conversation – isn’t ideal. It will mess with your momentum and just stopping has more potential “costs” to your health, than simply finding a healthy way to move and work with the heat.
So, how can you set yourself up for the best success possible in the heat?

Here are my TOP tips for exercising in the heat:

  1. Get it done early – before the heat hits it’s peak. You’re not only going to feel better, you’re going to have better capacity. You will likely be able to push harder and get the most out of your exercise session!
  2. Be hydrated – before you start. This means making sure you’re topping up your hydration in the day and days leading up to your exercise sessions. Heck, just stay hydrated all the time (LOL). But seriously. How do you know if you’re hydrated well? TMI Tip: you’re urine should be a very pale yellow (excluding the use of some medications or vitamins which can colour your urine).
  3. Stay hydrated – top up your fluids during exercise. Even if it’s a short exercise session, you may want to think about topping up during exercise. How much will depend on a variety of factors including your sweat rate (partially genetics), exercise intensity, ambient heat and wind. And of course how well hydrated you were going in. Be well hydrated before you start, then keep topping up as you exercise. If you are a heavy sweater an electrolyte drink may also be helpful. This helps you restore the electrolytes you’re loosing and can help with recovery as well. Try to find an electrolyte product that isn’t full of unnecessary sugars and colourings. I really like NUUN products for this reason. But a pinch of salt in some watered down juice can also really do the trick!
  4. Stay cool – clothes and shade. Seek out shady options for outdoor exercise (run in the trails instead of the roads) and wear light coloured breathable clothing that will wick the sweat.
  5. Change it up – try something new entirely! If it’s excessively hot and you’re not dealing well with the heat, consider possibly swapping your usual outdoor activity for an indoor one! You might just find a new activity you love even more!
  6. Listen and honour your body – today. Accept that workouts in the heat won’t likely be your best. Just give the best you’ve got TODAY – in TODAY’s circumstances. I personally advocate this philosophy ALL the time, but it’s especially relevant with heat!
  7. Be heat-smart. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion, such as nausea, dizziness, cramps, and headache. If you notice any signs, stop your activity right away, cool off, and drink fluids.
  8. Be sun-smart. Apply sunscreen and lip balm with a minimum SPF of 30 and wear a hat!
  9. Chill out – help your body cool off after. This will help your body get back to your optimal temperature. Take a lovely dip in the ocean or a lake or hop in a cool shower! ahhhh!
  10. Drink up! Restock your water with a refreshing drink (I love water with some mint and cucumber in it or coconut water – a natural source of electrolytes after a hot workout!).

Most importantly – remember that no workout is more important than your overall health and well-being! Have fun and stay safe!