Here we are again, back to the usual Kansas City heat and humidity. Now that outdoor running is much more common, it's best to know everything you can to partake in beneficial, efficient workouts in this heat.
Surprisingly enough, the body adapts remarkably well to heat; more than it does to any other environmental stress nature provides, such as cold or altitude, according to research completed at the University of Connecticut. Heat is a paradox: on one hand, we've evolved to withstand high-level activity in the heat, but if we do not allow ourselves to adapt properly, it can be extremely dangerous. Knowledge is key!
1. Allow Time For Adaptation
It takes, on average, two weeks for your body to acclimate to the rise in temperatures. During this time, any exercise done outside should be lessened. A good way to do this without compromising the workout is to decrease the intensity, and focus on completing the task you've set out to do. For example, say your goal is to run 4 miles. While your usual pace may be a 9-minute mile, putting you at 36 minutes for 4 miles, it's best that you slow yourself down - anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes per mile - to allow your body time to adjust. Chances are, you'll feel just as winded for the first couple of weeks anyway while your body acclimates.
2. Allow Time For Recovery
Short-term: for the first few weeks, it's essential to give yourself breaks during workouts to cool off and decrease your core body temperature. During workouts, take longer breaks during sets or reps, and during runs, take time to walk or take a quick rest in the shade. Long-term: not only does it take more energy for the body to exercise in the heat, but the body will also take longer to recover after your workout is complete. Again, this doesn't last all summer, but you will definitely notice a change after your first few runs or workouts outdoors.
3. Quality, Not Quantity
In regards to both tips listed above, you're going for a feeling, more than anything else.
If you feel exhausted during a workout, more than usual at that time-point in your workout (whether it be time, distance, or reps), your body likely needs a break. You will fatigue faster - it's part of that whole two-week timeframe we mentioned earlier.
That being said, you'll likely need slightly more rest between workouts when exercising outdoors. However, from this perspective, it's best to stick to your regular schedule as best you can. When you exercise, you're both working your body and your mind. To protect the mind, it's best to continue your regular routine, as usual. To protect your body, maybe drop one or two workouts per week for the first couple of weeks while you acclimate to the heat, then you can add a workout back in each week, afterwards.
For example: a high school athlete participating in a summer weights program should continue to do the 6:30 AM workouts as usual (despite the fact that he may need more rest in between workouts), but instead of going 5 days per week, go 4. After a couple of weeks, add the 5th workout back in.
We suggest this because your mindset going into a workout at a time you're used to is going to give you much better results than going at a time you aren't. Your frame of mind differs depending upon the time of day, so working out at 6:30 AM on Monday, then 5 PM on Tuesday if that's not what you're used to, could really throw you off.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Your body will need more fluids - before, during, and after. Many long-distance athletes and coaches suggest electrolyte-infused liquids during the workout, and immediately after, to increase results. Good electrolyte-rich beverages include pedialyte, or Gatorade. Recent studies conclude it may actually cause an increase in dehydration to replace fluids in the body with pure water during/immediately after exercise, as the body's natural fluids have a certain level of salts and other compounds to maximize hydration (for example, saline solution.) Hydrating with water at all other times slows the process of dehydration during a workout, and allows you to stop slightly less frequently to refill.
5. Avoid Brutal Heat
Do the best you can to run in the morning or evening, when the sun is nowhere near it's hottest. If your lunch break is the only time of day you can get your workout in, do your best to plan routes or routines with plenty of shade near by. If your workout is non-mobile, such as yoga or bodyweight training, or perhaps on a track, keep your fluids in the shade. Not only does it keep them cooler, but it forces you into the shade at least for a few minutes to help you cool off.
6. Avoid Brutal Humidity
Living in Kansas City means there will be plenty of days over the summer and into early fall when this will be very hard to do. Best advice I can provide is humidity is usually higher in the morning, so attempt to plan your workouts in the evening, as often as you can. Your body will have a hard time cooling off in humidity, even if it's not 95 degrees outside. The reason behind this is because, as your muscles release heat during exercise, it will diffuse into the blood where it will be taken toward the skin's surface to be evaporated and lost to the environment, in the form of sweat. However, when it's too humid out, the environment will be too "wet" itself to evaporate more liquid off of your skin, which will not allow you to cool yourself adequately.
Remember osmosis from 8th grade science? Water diffuses to the whichever side of the barrier has less, or a higher concentration of salts. However, if the environment has too much water, it won't accept yours. Evaporating your sweat into the air is the same as you giving your liquids to the drier side of the barrier. This is a very general description of one of the many reasons why the body becomes dehydrated - the environment takes our hydration from us!