Its summer and the thermostat is on its way to RED! While many people are planning beach, river and resort vacations that center around cool waters and relaxation, there are a lot of individuals and groups who are continuing INTENSE EXERCISE in these elevated temperatures.
Working out in extreme temperatures is dangerous for the vast majority of individuals who are exercising. Moreover, working out at high intensity levels in extreme temps is actually more like a dangerous game of roulette.
So why do we do it?
Akin to the manipulated and skewed theory that eating bacon at every meal will make you “thin and fit”, there are some easily manipulated and erroneously informed mindsets who believe exercising in the heat will make you stronger and perform better.
Both theories possess a very small fraction of validity, but that validity is NOT a one size fits all program. In fact, the finite structure used to evaluate this validity is almost non-existent in local athletic communities, including gyms, boxes, running/cycling programs and high school sports programs.
What does that mean? Local coaches, trainers and instructors who encourage MAX EFFORT WORK (the PUSH – for time, to beat someone, to beat the clock, etc…) in EXTREME HOT AND HUMID CONDITIONS are playing a risk game with their mostly average fitness folks. Period.
The primary question asked, or that should be asked, is “Does working out in extreme conditions improve performance?”.
The answer is mostly NO, with a very tiny esoteric YES.
Preliminary, or initial studies of this long time belief, proved some points that are definitely worth a look.
A study performed and published in 2010 on endurance athletes, testing this theoretical application, revealed that YES, there was a SMALL improvement in endurance in the ELITE TRAINED STUDY PARTICIPANTS.
Now it’s time to crank UP the heat, right? Well, as we know, most people would read that and say “HELL YEA, I’m gonna breed some competition winning athletes!”
In fact, only ELITE ENDUARNCE athletes, most around 24 years old, with highly trained bodies were used to test the theory. Control groups are extremely important but this group is a FAR CRY from what you have in your class, your box, your gym, or on your trainee list.
Secondly, these top notch athletes all performed the same activity PRIOR, and therefore were all equally matched. This is hardly the case in the box or gym setting.
They were split into two groups, a control and a study, with the study group put though an “ACCLIMATION” process with heat being increased slowly over the study period to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The control group hung tight in a stable air conditioned lab. Same protocol and same workout with only the temperature of the control group being increased.
At the end of the study, the participants from both groups were put to the test in the same air conditioned lab chilled to 55 degrees. Those who were heat ACCLIMATED over the course of the study performed an average of 6% better.
When the need to WIN is your LIFE, then this small edge is positive. However, the VAST MAJORITY of exercisers are NOT competitive athletes and their life’s work does not rest on WINNING the gold, money, prestige or other self-serving reasons.
Give me ALL of your annual earnings and I will hang onto it for a year and give you back a 6% increase. If you hand me $2,000, I will give you back $2,120! WOW, you are WEALTHY NOW (sarcasm for the not so bright). If you handed me $10K, your return would be $600 and guess what? You were without your money for a YEAR so if you gave me your $45,000 annual salary, I’d give you back an extra $2,700?
That is hardly a return on investment and the risk of losing everything is much greater without an income for a year.
SO WHY the HELL would someone encourage HIGH INTENSITY exercise in EXTREME HEAT on a regular basis?
The bottom line is the lack of understanding and the false belief it makes EVERYONE a better athlete.
When the body completes an INTENSE WORKOUT, regardless of outdoor or indoor temperature, it is subjected to the HIGH risk of OVERHEATING. This can happen in a 55-degree lab or a 110-degree metal gym. Intensity is intensity.
When you add hot external temperatures, the fact that most exercisers only do so intermittently….you know the ones who say “sorry, my job….sorry, my family….sorry, I was tired….sorry, I’m in school….sorry, I had to work” and show up once every 2 weeks…, and MOST of your exercisers are NOT in top notch condition (on meds, eat crappy, drink a lot, take steroids….etc), then the risk is even higher.
WHAT happens to the body to cause overheating?
“The most common heat-related symptoms are those associated with both heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and the early symptoms involve such things as goose bumps, tingling sensation in the skin, kind of a dull headache, nausea. Those things really portend one of those two diseases, either heat exhaustion, which is really a disease of dehydration that causes cardiovascular strain, or the more serious heat illness, heatstroke……..eventually in heatstroke, sweating stops in – somewhere around 50 percent of all cases. So we used to teach people in health class that the only people who are suffering heatstroke were those who stopped sweating. That’s not true, and it’s also dangerous because you may have stopped sweating half an hour ago but if it’s still hot, and especially if it’s still humid, the sweat that you produce stays on the skin, and there’s no way of knowing that you’ve stopped sweating.”
Heat fatigue, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are major issues with intense training in intense conditions (anything over 90 degrees). Heat fatigue is really the body saying OK SUCKER, YOU BETTER LISTEN TO ME. This is usually expressed through cramps in the body, the legs or even the gut. Heat exhaustion can happen immediately or even a few days after intense heat / training exposure, especially if proper rehydration is not enacted. Heat stroke is the advanced stage and can cause death.
When your body temps begin to rise, the body adjusts to try and keep cool. It sends the blood to the skin’s surface and AWAY from the muscles and tissues and organs…. including the HEART. The HEART must work even HARDER to try and pump necessary blood to the muscles, tissues and organs. Basically, your heart is under attack. Now, add to that the fact that you are SWEATING, which is a process of DEHYDRATION. Dehydration causes even MORE STRAIN on the heart.
I’m CERTAIN no one exercising in the gym is on ANY type of blood pressure medication (again, sarcasm) or other medications/supplements, pre-workouts, caffeine, OTC or prescribed, that have ANY impact on the heart…right? NONE of them are hung over. NONE of them are out of shape or have an excess of body fat. NONE of them have any health conditions whatsoever. NONE of them have unknown heart conditions or blockages. RIGHT? WRONG….
A cocktail for disaster for the average or recreational gym-goer.
Yes, drinking plenty of cool liquids, regardless of the kind of liquid (water, tea, electrolyte replacement and even iced lattes) will help cool the body down. However, it is essential to be amply hydrated of body DAYS before intense or heat-laden exercise. This means you are taking in adequate water for YOUR body on a regular basis. Unfortunately, cool fluids can only do so much in keeping the internal temps cool. You are most fortunate that your body will typically begin to TALK to itself before any significant danger, like feeling ill or losing energy. LISTEN to it!
If you are slamming beers on Sunday at the river and hitting the box on a Monday, working out in high temps and at intense levels, you are playing with your own life!
Headache – if you experience a headache during or at the end of an intense, hot or combined with intense exercise, it is a sign of dehydration or worse, possible heat stroke
Heat cramps – can happen anywhere on your body and mean stop, your body is losing sodium and needs cool water or low sugar electrolyte drink like coconut water. This is typically the first, often ignored, sign
Dizziness, weakness and nausea – signs that you are overdoing it and need to stop immediately to cool off in the shade and rehydrate
Confusion and disorientation – signs of heat stroke, a medical emergency
Red, hot and dry skin that has stopped sweating – this means DANGER, you have gone too far and may not get back…seek medical attention immediately as this is a medical emergency
Who is at risk?
Most folks over 55 years old, anyone who has high blood pressure, people on medications, people who are not in top physical condition, individuals with HIGH BODY FAT percentages (over 18-20%), those going through heat acclimation training and athletes/recreational exercisers training at intense levels in temperatures above 85 degrees, especially if they are not use to training in the intense heat. That is MOST of your clientele and most of the exercisers abroad.
Anyone training in high heat, high humidity, dark clothing and in direct sunlight in the heat of the day is at high risk, all other variables held constant.
The bottom line is: If YOU CHOOSE to train intensely in extreme temperatures, you are playing roulette with your health. If you are going to train in an intense environment at an intense level, keep in mind that you need to “shorten” your workouts to less than an hour (30 min max) and focus on major muscle groups like legs and glutes, ensure that you are obtaining adequate hydration, vitamin C, B and minerals, don’t push yourself during these times and if you are smart exerciser, train in the early part of the day or the coolest part of the evening when the sun goes down.
Also, remember that indoor temperatures can be 5-15 degrees hotter than what is outside so if its 101 outdoors, you can bank on the indoor temps being 110 minimum!
The bolus of the outdoor exercisers and those who train in facilities without AC in temperatures above 85 degrees are not elite endurance or highly trained athletes and therefore, should not be pushed to run or perform harder or better than they are able to do. Racing for time is probably not optimal.
The body will typically have lower outputs in these conditions, so comparing a morning workout group to a 6pm workout group is really comparing apples to oranges.
Nausea, dizziness, headaches, red faces and even fatigue mean you are past the yellow line and fastly approaching the red.
Meat is considered DONE at 160 degrees Fahrenheit……