The first thing is first. Who will benefit from heat adaptation in summer? The answer is EVERYONE, especially who wants to raise their performance to the next level.
Training in the summer can be brutal, especially for those athletes who live near the equator or facing brutal heat waves due to climate changes. Ever noticed during training that you can not keep the heart rate lower even though you are not pushing as much as you would like to? This is where training and heat adaptation comes in.
I don’t count my situps. I only start counting once it starts hurting. -Muhammad Ali
Worry not. Once you learn how the body deals with heat and how you can train around such limitations will significantly improve your endurance for extremely warm conditions.
First, let’s go through the topic of why heat impacts performance.
The human body functions within a very narrow range of temperature (98.6 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 to 39.5 degrees Celsius). If the core temperature rises above the threshold, the internal alarm starts ringing and the body goes into the protect mode.
At this stage, a couple of things start to happen. Firstly, the blood is rerouted from the working muscles to the surface of the skin to increase sweat production and dissipate heat. Secondly, the nervous system starts limiting the intensity to prevent any damage to the brain and internal organs.
Good news is you can improve your physiological response drastically. Proper training simulation for heat adaptation is key to perform at your best during race day.
So, the question comes, how to acclimate for the heat?
Firstly, teach your body to train in hot and humid weather.
Start with short, easy sessions of 30 minutes and slowly increase the duration by 10 minutes per week. Forget doing any hard-intense intervals, just maintain a very easy effort. Remember that the objective here is to train your nervous system not to get alarmed once the core temperature rises above the normal.
Also, try to mimic the race day environment as much as possible. If you have to run or cycle when the heat is at its highest (i.e. around noon), do an easy session around that time will help you in the race. Yes, it’s easy to train in the early morning or in the afternoon when the temperature is relatively low but grinding it out when it’s the hardest is going to pay in dividends come race day.
Remember, easy means easy.
Most of us make the mistake of training in the grey zone. Use a heart rate monitor to track your heart rate. If you notice your heart rate is rising above the easy zone, slow down. Don’t expect or try to perform at the same level on hot days. On my long runs, I try to keep my heart rate pretty slow and if it starts to rise, I take a walk break. No point of running continuously if your heart rate goes into the red zone unnecessarily.
But, how about interval training?
On the other side of the spectrum, early morning or evening is a great time to do short and intense intervals, so utilize that time for lung-busting efforts. You’ll have better workouts and can maintain quality. Indoors is a great place to do such an effort but try to mimic the race day environment. You’ll hear top professional athletes do that quite often to prepare for races.
In fact, there’s the story that, former world time trial champion, Tony Martin, won one of his titles through heat adaptation. He intentionally turned the heater up in his bathroom and trained to get used to racing in that temperature. So next time you train, just turn off the air conditioning and suffer through the workout. Things will get easier soon enough.
Proper clothing is very important for the summer.
Since sweating is the body’s primary cooling mechanism, you need to make sure that your clothing doesn’t hamper that process. Avoid wearing everyday clothes and invest in some proper sports gears. Quality does matter and you’ll notice the difference instantaneously. There will be less chafing and more comfort. Choose light colors as they will reflect the sun.
Hydration and fueling are others that we tend to overlook.
Yes, we lose a lot of water through sweat and hydration is necessary to replenish that lost fluid but that’s the only reason. When you drink enough water, it keeps the blood volume levels close to normal. Since oxygen is delivered to the muscles through blood, maintaining blood volume becomes important to perform better as it enables the heart to deliver more oxygen per contraction.
When you overheat, you burn more calories as well hence nutrition also becomes essential. Take more foods or gels than usual but make sure it doesn’t upset your stomach. After all, you don’t want to train with stomach pain. Also, try to take foods that are easy to digest as the body is working hard to cool your body down and there’s less blood available in your stomach to break down the food.
To have a successful heat adaptation training…
You must listen to your body, period. Look for signs of nausea, lightheadedness, disorientation, etc. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, stop immediately. No need to be stubborn and keep exercising in the heat at that point. Learn to train with feel and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) instead of power data or running pace.
You have trained accordingly and wondering how soon you’ll be able to see the results.
Full acclimatization usually takes about 14 days. After two weeks, make sure you perform light training every alternate day in the heat for about 60-90 minutes to make the heat adaptation more effective. Remember that this process reverses pretty quickly so, don’t be too passive and think you can hold on to the fitness through experiencing the summer heat only.
Training and racing in the heat are tough, both mentally and physically. But it’s tough for everyone, not only you. By being prepared, being intelligent in terms of training volume and intensity, and being consistent will take your training to a new level in the summer months.
Are you ready to take on a tough event in the summer heat? Do you feel confident after reading this? Let me know in the comments section. Meanwhile, here’s a blog post on why you should embrace an athletic lifestyle and how it will benefit you.