Are There Any Benefits Running in Heat?

Natalie Cecconi
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Benefits to Running in the Heat

When most people think of summer training advantages, they usually bring up the heat and humidity as the primary detractor from training.

But there is also a lot of upside to outdoor training in conditions of heat and humidity.

It is important to note that your body can only adapt to the training load that you are able to perform, not the one you have the intention of doing.

If you are not able to perform the intensity of the training correctly, you will not get the benefit of the training session.

Many runners are too focused on pace, which can lead to too many negative training sessions and a lot of wasted training time. So instead of training in a way that is focused on a specific INT or HR pace, training in conditions of heat and humidity provide a unique set of training stimuli that will get you the benefits of a training session without the negative training effect.

The key to make training in hot and humid conditions a blessing and not a curse, is to adapt your training pace and intensity to the conditions.

By doing this, you will be able to adapt to the conditions over time and get the proper training adaptations, without compromising your well-being and your future performances. The training adaptations will occur regardless of the training load, so you can perform the same workout in similar conditions with a lower training load, but still get the same adaptation from it.

Improved Cardiovascular Fitness

Running in hot weather is like a cardio workout on steroids. The hotter and more humid the weather, the harder you must work to regulate your body’s temperature. Running in warmer weather helps you get fit much faster and further than running in cold weather.

Ability to Run Longer

Running in the heat for hours on end may seem like an impossible task. Human beings are simply not built for extremely hot temperatures. However, if you can adapt and adjust to running in the heat you can overcome this obstacle.

When you run in the summer heat you must pace yourself in order to avoid overheating. In the winter, you can run as quickly as your body allows. If you slow down a little bit in the summer to avoid overheating you can run longer in the summer than you can in the winter.

Increased Metabolic Cost

Running in extreme heat is the metabolic equivalent of adding an extra 10 pounds to your body weight. It will make you sweat, and cause your core temperature to rise. The more you run in the heat, the fitter you get due to this increase in energy consumption.

Saves You Money

Running in the heat will cost you less money because you will not be required to invest in costly summer gear like big winter jackets and parkas. You will be able to run in the heat in the same clothing you run in when running in the winter.

Decreased Heart Rate

While you are out running and you haven’t yet grown acclimated for the heat, you may notice your heart rate decreasing or even surprisingly slowing down in some cases. To understand why this happens, you need to understand a little bit about the body’s circulatory system.

Running causes your heart to beat faster. However, as you become more fit this heart rate increases a lot less than someone who is not fit. Your heart reacts to the increase in running speed by increasing its pumping efficiency.

If you are not used to the heat this is a lifesaving mechanism ….your heart can be adjusted to pump fast enough to keep your body cool and in the right condition.

However, if you are already used to the heat and you are fit ….your heart is pumping efficiently and it only needs to beat faster to meet your body’s increased demand for blood. Thus, it doesn’t need to pump as much blood to get the same level of energy.

Improved Fitness Efficiency

You may often hear about how good it can be to train in hot weather. Your body is already warm and doesn’t need to work so hard to produce the extra heat needed. This leads to more efficient training.

Less Muscle fatigue – Muscles work better at a constant temperature. So more work can be done during exercise when the muscles are already warmed up.

Increase in Oxygen Efficiency – Breathing is controlled through the peripheral blood vessels, largely in the limbs. These are often cooled through conduction. So when the muscle tissue is warmed up, the blood vessels are already conducting them better.

Increase in Endurance – In the heat, your body is working less and is able to relax more. This leads to increased endurance.

Increase in Labor Efficiency – When the muscles are already warmed up, more work can be done per unit of energy.

Better Overall Performance

If you think about how the body handles a normal running workout, it can be said that it produces body heat.

The harder you run, the more energy that is spent and the more calories that are burned.

This is in proportion to the harder you are working.

In hotter climates, you could argue that the harder you are working, the more calories that are burned, the more fluids are consumed (since sweat is produced), hence the more time it takes for the body to produce that next breath.

There is also the notion that the body is better able to adapt to heat if you are regularly exposed to it.

That theory is backed by the benefits that accrue when you are regularly running in heat.

Over time, regular exposure to heat increases your body’s ability to adapt and run comfortably in it.

Your heartbeat evens out, the temperature of your body stabilizes, and the blood flow increases. As a result, your performance overall increases, enabling you to run at your best.

As an added bonus, you are enabling your body to be more efficient, thus helping you burn more calories and enabling you to lose weight.

Consistent exposure to heat is also known to work a good amount of endurance in your body. It is

How to Acclimate to the Heat

One of the main benefits of running is it improves cardiovascular fitness. Sometimes as you start out, you will experience changes in your running form and even bouts of pain. This can be annoying, but it can also help you gain speed. The harder you push in the beginning, the faster your body will tell you how you should run, and you can gain a longer stride. However, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard in the beginning and risk setback.

Midway through your running career, you’ll be ready for a new challenge. You may think about adding heat training to your workout regimen and running in the warmer months. As an experienced runner, you’ll know you can handle the heat better than someone just starting out.

It’s possible to train yourself to run in the heat without putting your health in jeopardy. Heat training is important if you want to be able to comfortably run a 5K or 10K race in the summer. If you aren’t in decent shape, you’ll feel like you’re walking through a pool when you attend your first 5K or you may even have to withdraw.

But Be Careful Of Overhydrating

Heat training is a method in which your body is hardened to living in high temperature. In doing so, it allows you to perform better in hot weather without experiencing cramps.

It all comes down to acclimatization.

When you train in the heat, you acclimatize your body to the muscle fibers that are affected by dehydration. Your temperature regulation mechanisms are also strengthened and the risk for cardiovascular issues decreases.

While finishing off a marathon or triathlon in peak condition can be truly rewarding, the danger of heat exhaustion during those events is omnipresent. But for amateur runners, living in an extremely hot weather that renders your training in the gym impossible is a common problem.

Here is a tip: If you have access to a community pool or some sort of water dip to cool off in, you should definitely take advantage of that. It will help in the acclimatization process. Also, you won’t need to buy ice to keep your perishable foods in the fridge.

If there is no water available, you can train in the heat of the day in order to acclimatize yourself. The thermic effect of training under hot conditions is much greater than running in average temperatures. Plus, you will be training at the time that is the most consistent with your race schedule.

Precautions & Tips

Summer is a great time for a jog in most parts of the world and an excellent opportunity to get physically active and work on your fitness. Running can quickly elevate your heart rate and make you sweat, resulting in a good overall workout. So if you’re wondering whether you should head out for a fun run no matter how hot it is outside, the simple answer is, of course, yes.

However, it’s also a good time to pay extra attention to your body and watch out for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Here are a few precautions you can follow to stay safe during the hot summer days.

Hydration:

Hydration is key when it comes to staying cool and preventing exercise-related heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. If you are going to run outside in warm and dry weather, it is essential to drink lots of water before and during your exercise.

This works to keep your body properly hydrated, maintains proper electrolyte levels, and decreases your risk of heat-related issues. And remember, you need to stay hydrated all the time. Not just before or during a run!

Staying Hydrated: What is the perfect amount?

Heat Exhaustion and Stroke

Heat in the summer is deadly for your health, but it's not all bad for your running routine. Studies have shown that cardiovascular training in the heat will improve your fitness performance during the winter.

This is because training in the heat increases one's tolerance to lower temperatures and enables you to maintain the same workload in a cooler environment. For instance, though you may run a similar pace in both summer and winter, in winter you will be working in a much cooler environment than you're used to, and if you have never trained in similar climate conditions you will not be able to handle the extra stress on your body.

This is especially important for athletes who have specific competitions in winter. For example, alpine skiers who trained in the heat prior to the Winter Olympics were able to maintain their speed despite the drop in temperature.

Scientists have found that this adaptation to heat is similar to the natural acclimatization one goes through when moving to a new location. In the first weeks or months, your body starts to make adjustments as you transition into a new environment, and these changes will help you adjust to the new environment in a matter of weeks.

Shorter Runs

Simply put, running when it’s hot out doesn’t give you better results. You may think that the conditions mimic the conditions found in races, but remember the conditions you experience on a training run are way different than what you experience during a race.

Considering the heat that runners in Texas experience, I am going to focus on some of the benefits of cold weather running. After all, cold weather running may sound like a bad idea, but it isn’t.

Of course, a hot or cold weather run has to have the following characteristics in order to provide benefit:

It should be an easy effort. There is no point in shutting down your core temperature when you are just warming-up for your run. The effort should be such where you could talk comfortably to someone else.

It is not a steady-state run. You need to break into it from a warm-up. This is the main way in which crossing the threshold works. It’s different than a long jog at a steady pace.

In fact, you only have to experience some cold weather such as after a rainfall or in the morning, to feel how much running makes you adapt to it.

Pace

Sudden and intense heat blowing down across the continental United States has even the most conditioned athletes scurrying to the freezer for some relief. Recovering from the heat is tough, especially in a humid climate like the southeast.

The hottest time of the year on a running schedule is the most brutal in the summer. The second half of July and August is a relatively difficult time of the year for those trying to train through the summer months.

Because of heat and humidity routines can be demanding. Here are some easy ways to prevent overtraining.

Heat and humidity lead to a shortened sense of time. People tend to hurry and rush as they struggle to keep their heads on straight. But it is very important that you manage your pace. And how might that be done?

It all starts with preparation. Before you even begin to pack up and head out the door, think about the conditions that you will face. Be sure to pack along some shade so that you are able to slow down your pace, even if just for a few moments.

You should plan your longer runs in the morning when it is cooler. If possible, break your workout into shorter distances and take frequent water breaks. Doing exercises that require less flexibility and stretching in the heat is always preferred.

Pay Attention to Your Body

The body is more susceptible to heat exhaustion during times of overtraining, under-hydration, decreased salt intake, a lack of electrolytes, dehydration, insufficient rest, etc.

Staying hydrated, replenishing electrolytes, and sweating adequately during exercise are extremely important factors that will help your body dissipate heat. As a rule of thumb, if you are sweating, you have a good sweat going. The ideal environment would be either a low humidity or a low warm temperature.

During summer heat, break your runs into smaller increments of duration and shorter distance.

Mix running speeds throughout these runs.

Also try to run early in the morning or later in the evening before the sun hits full force. Avoid running on roads that are of asphalt or blacktop. Those tend to absorb the sun’s radiation more than running surfaces that are made of concrete.

If you’re not already, try to run in these conditions.

Keep these sample summer running workouts on hand and from week-to-week, make sure to increase your mileage.

Make sure to monitor your core body temperature and watch out for the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Change Up Your Running Environment

Give yourself some variety by occasionally using a treadmill on a hot day. You’ll experience the convenience of a treadmill, and you can get in a good “pre” workout without the risk of getting overheated and dehydrated.

As you’re about to step onto that belt, be sure to run in the A/C for a few minutes to cool down your body temperature. When you’re dressed in your warmup clothes, you’re already sweating (in the winter, you’re typically already warm), and adding heat to that equation may send you from a light sweat to a full blown state of overheating.

Once you’re up and running, watch your body temperature. If your workout is too intense, it’s not the time to see how many miles you can log on the machine. Also, if you face any post-run adjustment issues, it’s a sign that you may need to get to a treadmill equipped with A/C and adjust your training strategy to take place during cooler months. As always, talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.

Change Up When You Run

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that runners and cyclists who were acclimated to an extreme heat index (think summer in the Southwest, for example) for a period of time,as little as three weeks, were able to reduce their heart rates and improve efficiency by 4-15% when running in hot conditions.

The study concluded that training in the heat and humidity can help you maintain your endurance levels while working less.

Another study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that both running and resistance training put less strain on the body when done in the heat compared to a more moderate temperature, because the body’s physiological response wasn’t as great.

The bottom line is: Training in the heat will make you better at handling the heat. That’s because your heart rate is lower during training and you’re working less on a physiological level.

Wear Different Running Clothes

Running in the cold is very different from running in the heat. The former requires you to wear layers and use weatherproof jackets and pants. The latter requires you to wear very little clothing in order to regulate your body temperature.

Knowing what to wear during different weather conditions can help you make the most of your runs.

You can use the resources below to learn everything you need to know about the different types of gear that are available for runners.

This will allow you to avoid last minute changes in your attire. You will also know how to choose the right clothing for your running needs … which, in turn, may help you avoid injuries and help you boost your performance:

Conclusion

Besides, there are two benefits runners might experience during summer heat – 1, it’s a way to cool yourself down while you exercise and you’ll experience no humidity in the air; and 2, you’ll have children, dogs, and senior folks as cheerleaders.