Last Sunday, I ventured out for a run. Now, bear in mind that this was one of the first super-hot days we had, so I was all high on summer and excited to delve into a workout while enjoying the warm weather. (Another important note: I am, by no means, a running savant.) I got moving and the thoughts started to flow: Okay, this isn’t so bad — it’s nice, even; And then I kept going, Wow, sure is a hot one, eh?; Finally, OMG. My mouth is sooo dry. I’m not properly hydrated. I can’t do another hill! Naturally, I headed home to hydrate, completely drenched and oh-so hot. A similar experience ensued on my efforts the next day.
This made curious about how I will be able to make this work for three more months. Welp, good ol’ science and the New York Times have come along with a tactic that might help us all tolerate hot, hot, hot workouts a bit more easily this summer.
As the Times reports, with the help of nine recreational runners, a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effectiveness of two methods used to cope with exercising in the heat: heat acclimation, which is the process of getting your body accustomed to warmer temperatures, and precooling, a method stemming from the thought that cooling down the body’s internal temperature will allow it to endure higher temperatures outside. Humorously, in this study, precooling involved the use of ice-pack lined underwear (could you imagine?) along with cooling vests and “thrusting an arm into a vat of cold water.” Pleasant.
Researchers examined the participants on multiple occasions in a heat-controlled room in which they ran a top-speed 5K after being precooled or heat acclimated (including a 90-minute vigorous cycle in 99-degree heat before running the 5K). Researchers recorded and compared the times for each situation, finding that runners clocked the slowest time in their first run at the start of the study — when they weren’t acclimated to the heat. They improved their time by four percent after precooling and improved their time by six and a half percent after four days of heat acclimation. Researchers found very little improvement by combining precooling and heat acclimation. The takeaway? Heat acclimation is your better bet for killing it in hot summer workouts.
So, how do you give heat acclimation a whirl? The first method would be to ease into your outdoor workouts during summer — start off at an easier pace and shorter amount of time and slowly rev things up as you get used to the heat. Another more intense option, per the Times, is to sit in a veryyy hot bath (104 degrees) for 30 minutes following a 30-minute run. This will help your body adapt to the heat, preparing you for your next jaunt in it, without requiring you to spend more time outside in the heat. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a nice soak?
And throughout all of this, still be aware of signs of heat-related illness like dizziness, nausea, headaches and muscle cramping. If you start feeling funny after being outside for too long, head for shade, take a break and hydrate.
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