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The Heat Wave Workout: How to Train in Hot Weather

Learn how exercising in muggy, hot weather can actually improve your performance—plus, signs you should take it easy outside.

Even if Bikram yoga is your personal idea of Hell, sweating through an outdoor workout session during the dog days may be to your fitness advantage. Sure, autumn's cool, less sticky weather will make you want to strap on your sneakers and get outside, but pushing yourself in the summer heat could help improve your performance in running, cycling, or other fitness-based activities. So long as the right precautions are taken, hot-weather workouts may give you a boost if you’re training for an endurance event, such as a marathon, Tough Mudder or some other sort of weekend warrior-style event. Hot-weather training may even eclipse high-altitude training when it comes to improving your performance. Here's what you need to know to sweat it out safely.

How Heat Can Boost Exercise Performance

There's some science behind how heat can help improve fitness levels: Researchers from the University of Oregon tracked the performance of 12 very high-level cyclists (10 male, two female) over a 10-day training period (with two days off in the middle) in 100-degree heat. Another control group did the exact same exercise regimen in a much more comfortable, 55-degree room. Both groups worked in 30 percent humidity. 

Researchers discovered that the cyclists who worked through the heat improved their performance by 7 percent (a very noticeable and significant amount in cycling), while the control group did not show any improvement. What surprised researchers most was that the experimental group not only showed that they had achieved a level of heat acclimation, but the training also helped them to function better in cooler environments.

Study co-author Chris Minson, head of the human physiology department at the University of Oregon, says that although research still needs to be done, heat acclimation training may overtake high altitude training in terms of an extreme way to achieve more elite fitness levels, since high altitude training forces the body to do everything more slowly. This can make an athlete more fit, but it will hinder their speed. The heat has no such problem, so maybe you’re better off just getting out in that hot weather instead of taking a long trip to the Rockies.

To be clear, these are not training tips for the average exerciser. However, you’ll only tap into about half of the heat acclimation you have the ability to achieve when exercising in moderate temperatures, and a more intense dedication will help get you closer to your potential, says Minson. Here are the magic numbers you need to know to maximize your heat acclimation.

101. The number of degrees Fahrenheit you need to elevate your core body temperature during training sessions,  says Minson. 

60. The number of minutes you want to have that elevated core temperature maintained during your heat training to make sure that you’re truly getting the heat acclimation benefits, says Minson.

5 to 10.  The number of days you need to train in the heat. “To really heat acclimate the way we’re talking about, someone has to really go out and exercise in the heat for five to ten days, with pretty significant exposure at times,” Minson says. Just be sure to follow warm-weather precautions to keep from overly stressing your body.

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