Tips for Training in Hot Weather

Heat? Humidity? Be smart and you can still work toward your goals.

Beers, burgers and treats aren’t the only things that might weigh you down this summer: sweltering weather can make even a short run feel like a trudge through mud. As the sun beats down, your core temperature shoots up, sending blood away from muscles to the surface of skin to help heat dissipate.

It’s uncomfortable, but science says training in the heat is worth the trouble: hot-weather workouts teach your body to sweat more (which keeps you cool), increase your blood-plasma volume (which benefits cardiovascular fitness), and lower your core body temp – all adaptations that help you perform better in any weather. But how hot is too hot? “I tell people to use caution when it’s more than 26 degrees Celsius out, or 30 degrees if you’re heat-acclimatised, and if the humidity is high, you need to make even more adjustments,” says Douglas Casa, Ph.D., head of the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, which studies enhancing performance in the heat. Follow these specific tweaks depending on what you’re training for.

Try this workout for steamy days: grab a pool noodle, jog 10 to 15 minutes to your local pool, then remove your shoes and jump in. Spend 15 to 20 minutes aqua-jogging with the noodle looped under your armpits, then put your shoes on and jog home. Apply anti-chafing balm before your run to avoid post-pool discomfort.


If you’ve pencilled in a long run and starting at 4 or 5am isn’t an option, make sure you’ve had a solid night’s rest, which enhances heat tolerance, says Casa. Avoid out-and-back routes (which don’t give you the option to bail), and tweak your expectations: “Many of us are around 10 per cent slower in the heat,” says Casa. Try running for time instead of distance on super-hot days: if a 28K run normally takes you three hours (6:15 min/km pace), run for three hours at the same effort level.


Prep for post-work races by packing hydrating fruit and veggie snacks (like carrots, cucumbers, strawberries and cantaloupe) to nosh on throughout the day. And chill a bandanna to wrap around your neck during the run: a recent study found that such cooling tactics during a race are more effective than pre-cooling strategies when it comes to boosting performance in the heat. You’ll also want to halve your standard warm-up to avoid overheating, says coach Ben Rosario. So if you typically jog for 10 minutes and do dynamic stretches for 10 minutes pre-race, do each for five instead – your muscles warm up more quickly in hot conditions. Set goals depending on how the elements look that day. One idea is to focus on place instead of time: if you know you’re among the top 50 in a given race on a cooler day, shoot for the same approximate place when it’s hot.


Stay flexible as you cross off your two or three swimming, biking and running workouts per week: “We ensure we’re swimming in the heat of the day and running and biking when it’s cooler, and we’ll pick bike routes that pass by petrol stations for ice to put in jerseys and sports bras,” says triathlon coach Jeff Bowman. During warm workouts, experiment with hydration to find the right balance of fluids and electrolytes for your needs, and practise drinking on the bike and on the run. When there’s a heat advisory, Bowman’s athletes move running and biking workouts indoors, where they can put in an intense effort with workouts such as the compound brick: “It’s pretty common for us to have to train inside – we’ll do run/bike/run/bike/run/bike (or vice versa) and increase the intensity each subsequent run/bike block,” he says. “But we make sure there’s air conditioning, fans directed at your face and body, and cool fluids.”


If the weather’s taking the life out of your workout, change plans: join a spin class, pop in a workout DVD, or go for an aqua-jog. As long as you’re clocking at least three moderate to tough runs weekly (inside or outside), for at least half of your usual weekly volume, you’ll maintain base fitness and be able to ease back into your normal schedule as the days become more tolerable. When you’re enduring hot temps, trade heat-radiating roads and sidewalks for dirt or grass; run shaded loops where you can re-up on water and ice; and go by feel instead of pace.


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