The idea of a summertime jog could send some running (or rather driving – with icy lemonade in hand) for the hills. Why punish yourself outdoors when the modern marvel of air conditioning is installed in most gyms? Others thrive in the 90 degree heat, appreciating the extra sweat, sunshine and fresh air.
Even if you relate more to the first group, an occasional outdoor workout can be the perfect way to mix up monotonous gym routines. Don't limit yourself to the elliptical – or worse, the television – because you're scared of a little summer heat. Safely enjoy (or a least try) hot weather workouts with the tips below:
Acclimate. Humans are like tropical animals, and we can adapt quickly to heat stress, says Michael Sawka, an adjunct professor in the School of Applied Physiology at Georgia Institute of Technology. But it might not feel like that at first. "When you go out for the first time in the summer heat, you're going to have a lot of cardiovascular strain, you won't be sweating as much and you may feel pretty miserable," says Sawka, also a former chief of the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. "But as you go out over a number of days – let's say a week or two – you'll find that you adapt very quickly … you can go out in the heat and have less physiological strain."
While that early June jog may have left you heaving, don't give up. Tone down the intensity and duration a bit, and weave in several breaks, but continue regular outdoor workouts so your body becomes better at handling the heat. As your heat tolerance improves, start rebuilding your workout intensity to where it was on those glorious 70 degree afternoons.
Hydrate. While sweat may be the bane of your underperforming deodorants, it's crucial for keeping you cool and safe during exercise. Work out hard for an hour, and you may lose about a quart of water in sweat, so load up on fluids. "Your body's ability to combat heat stress is based on what it has in it to do so," says Kenny Boyd, athletic trainer for the University of Texas Longhorns football team – no strangers to grueling workouts in the Austin heat. "Make sure that you're adequately fueled through what you're eating and drinking."
And how much "fuel" is adequate? About 20 or 30 minutes before your workout, drink 8 to 12 ounces of water, and tack on another 6 to 10 ounces for every additional 30 minutes of exercise, writes Gordon Blackburn, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Cardiac Rehabilitation, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program, in a post for the hospital's website. (For more about what to eat before and after workouts, check out this Eat + Run blog.)
Instead of just drinking when you're thirsty, consume water throughout the day, as well as water-rich foods, like fruit. If you're planning to exercise intensely for more than an hour, consider a sports drink, which may help replace sodium, chloride and potassium, Mayo Clinic suggests.
Consider the time of day you exercise. Boyd's football team practices at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to avoid the worst of the Texas sun. You, too, should opt for workouts in the early mornings or evenings when the heat is less intense.
Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothes help sweat evaporate, according to the Mayo Clinic, so go for light-colored cotton T-shirts, shorts and, if possible, brimmed hats. And don't be shy with the sunscreen.
Take it inside. We're all for challenging workouts and sweat-fests, but if you're concerned with your health, bring it indoors. Shorten your time in the sun by perhaps stretching, warming up and cooling down inside and doing only the core of your workout outside, Boyd suggests. Or bring the whole routine inside. Even if you don't have a gym membership, numerous exercises can be done anywhere, such as yoga, bodyweight strength training and simply running up and down the stairs.
And what if you didn't quite follow these tips, and the summer heat gets the best of you or your workout buddy?