Working Out During a Heat Wave
Extremely hot temperatures can wreck your training plan. So how can you beat the heat?
How would I describe the heat this summer?
Soul sucking. Misery inducing. So bad that when I step outside, it feels like my energy force leaves my body…vaporized in a boatload of sweat.
As someone who loves to exercise outside, July and August have been challenging months in Dallas, Texas. I’m currently giddy about a “cold front” that’s passing through as I write this piece, promising temperatures only in the mid-90s for the next few days.
Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who doesn’t mind the heat. I’ve lived with it my whole life. And generally, I’ve never felt a summer so oppressive that it crushed my will to exercise outdoors…until now.
In reviewing my Strava activity data today, I realized I haven’t ridden my road bike since July 30, my longest drought since my broken leg. This is partly weather, partly choice—it’s been brutally hot in the evenings after work, when I often ride. I’m talking temperatures around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. And when I do get up early, I’ve been prioritizing running, as my wife and I have started training for a 25K trail race in November.
But there’s no denying the heat has made exercising outdoors extremely challenging the past few months. After reflection, I’ve come up with a few lessons learned when it comes to extreme heat and exercising outdoors.
Lesson #1: Virtual training is great…until it’s not.
Since mid-June, when it started to heat up, I’ve done 21 indoor bike rides. While I enjoy the gamification aspect of Zwift and the virtual reality rides on Rouvy, when that’s all your doing on the bike, it starts to get tedious.
It doesn’t matter what awesome Netflix show I put on or how much I try to distract myself by racing random people in a virtual world, in the end, I’m still sitting…still. I’d imagine a lot of my fellow runners who have been hitting the treadmill a lot this summer feel the same way.
This past week or two, I’ve hit a wall with virtual cycling. I just can’t take it anymore. Virtual training can be a nice change of pace from your outdoor routine. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch Too Hot to Handle while exercising, right? But when you’re doing it time, after time, after time, it becomes boring. And that’s when you have to switch it up.
Which leads us to…
Lesson #2: Mixing things up can help kick the indoor workout boredom.
Growing tired of Zwift this month, I’ve turned to making up my own indoor workouts, typically of the high intensity interval training (HIIT) variety.
The great thing about indoor HIIT is you can get your heart rate up in a relatively short period of time, get a nice sweat going and feel like you’ve done a solid strength workout. It’s also more efficient from a time perspective compared to churning out miles on an indoor bike or treadmill.
For example, one day, I grabbed a kettlebell, and decide to mix in goblet squats, pushups, kettlebell swings and wall handstands. There wasn’t anything to scientific about this workout—I did a lot of reps of all these things until I felt an endorphin rush.
Experiment. Make up your own indoor workouts. If you don’t want to experiment with your own HIIT workouts, though, maybe you should just wake up earlier, right?
Lesson #3: Waking up early doesn’t always make things better.
Whether I’m trying to ride my bike or go for a run this summer, I’ve often been faced with a no-win dilemma. Wake up early, and exercise in less hot temperatures and super high humidity. Or wait until the end of the day, and get my training done in super hot temperatures with less humidity.
The past week or so, I’ve even done a couple of runs at night. The temperatures for those runs? 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The point here is that during extreme conditions, you may think that it’s better to wake up in the morning to avoid the higher temperatures. I’ve actually found that when the sun is down, higher temperatures are more tolerable, especially if the humidity is lower. 80 degrees and high humidity almost feels more stifling to me.
So if you’re not a fan of the humidity like me, buy a headlamp. Night running can be a bit thrilling—there’s nothing like running through a trail in the woods by yourself to get the adrenaline pumping.
One note…if you don’t like spiders, don’t do this. The headlamp illuminates them. SO…MANY…SPIDERS.
Lesson #4: Some days you just have to accept outdoor exercise is a no go.
If you’ve got temperatures approaching 110 degrees as we’ve had recently, for example, it may not be a day to exercise outside, no matter how early or late you try. Personally, I’ve had several days recently where I realized it wasn’t wise to go outside to ride my bike or run.
It’s true, heat acclimation can help. I’ve grown up in Texas, so I’m used to working out in the heat. But my wife, for example, who grew up in England, isn’t used to it and doesn’t respond well to the heat. If you live in an area that hasn’t typically had hot weather, it’s best to skip the super hot days.
Even worse? The combination of extreme heat and air pollution. A new study found that extreme heat combined with air pollution can double your risk of dying from a heart attack, according to the Washington Post.
Lesson #5: When it comes to dealing with the heat, you’ve got to find your balance.
When it’s hot outside, you need a balanced approach to maintain your fitness routine.
If you’re used to exercising outside at the same time every day, that won’t work with extreme temperatures. Maybe you get up early on some days. Maybe you work out in the evening other days. Or maybe you exercise in your home or at the gym other days. Plan ahead. Think through your schedule. And most importantly, keep an eye on that ten-day forecast.
And if it’s too hot? Maybe it’s time for a different indoor exercise (like HIIT or yoga), a lower impact exercise like walking or even a rest day.