For many, hot weather causes a shift from pounding the pavement outside to hopping on a treadmill inside with the AC blasting. But sometimes, taking your sweat session outdoors comes with serious perks — if you do work out in the heat safely.
“There are several aspects to training in hot weather environments that make it potentially more challenging and simultaneously more beneficial for improving fitness,” confirms Alex Rothstein, a certified personal trainer and instructor for the New York Institute of Technology’s Exercise Science program.
Heat training — or exercising in hotter-than-usual conditions — can be exhausting at first as your body has to work harder and is quicker to fatigue. But, with time, hot-weather workouts could help improve your cardiovascular fitness, health and athletic performance in hot and cool environments alike.
Ready to get sweating? Read on to learn how to safely begin heat training, plus three ways to reap the benefits of hot-weather workouts with expert insight from exercise physiologists and fitness pros.
If you’re new to hot-weather workouts, the key is to slowly turn up the heat and intensity to give your body time to “acclimatize” (meaning physically adjust to a new environment) while reducing risks like overtraining and heat exhaustion, says Jack McNamara, a certified personal trainer with TRAINFITNESS.
Rather than diving right in with intense workouts at peak heat, start with shorter, high-intensity morning and evening workouts when it’s slightly cooler, and make sure you include plenty of breaks. Then, gradually add lower-intensity workouts in higher temperatures, he says. To beat the heat, make sure to properly hydrate and fuel up before, during and after workouts; wear loose, light-colored clothing and sunscreen; and watch out for warning signs of dehydration like muscle cramps, weakness or dizziness, per the Mayo Clinic.
“It can take up to two weeks for your body to fully acclimatize to the heat, so go slow and make intelligent choices about when to go outside,” says McNamara.
1. THEY INCREASE YOUR ENDURANCE
Fun fact: When you sweat, the perspiration on the surface of your skin, which helps keep you from overheating, comes from plasma, the liquid substance in your blood that helps transport red blood cells. Repeated exercise in the heat forces your body to adapt to cool you off more efficiently by upping your stores of fluid to pull from (In science-speak: You increase your blood plasma volume.), explains Todd Buckingham, PhD, an exercise physiologist and world champion triathlete. As a result, your body retains the fluid it needs to deliver oxygen to your muscles and tough workouts begin to feel easier.
How to reap the benefits: Do a HIIT beach workout
“An equipment-free, high-intensity interval training workout on the beach is a fast, effective way to get your heart rate up and build up a good sweat, but also allow yourself ample time to recover,” says Tami Smith, a Florida-based personal trainer. Just remember to reserve HIIT workouts like this one for mornings and evenings to avoid pushing yourself too hard.
Check out this detailed 30-minute beach workout from MyFitnessPal trainer Shana Verstegen, or consider the one below if you prefer designing your own routine.
- 5–10 minute walk
- 10 squats
- 10 reverse lunges on each side
- 20 jumping jacks
- 60-second plank
- 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise such as sprints, jump squats or burpees
- 60 seconds of rest
- Repeat 10 times
- 5-minute walk or yoga flow
2. THEY STRENGTHEN YOUR HEART
Training in the heat doesn’t just improve your body’s cooling system, says Sergio Pedemonte, a certified personal trainer and owner of Your House Fitness. It also allows your heart to pump more blood with each beat and lowers your resting heart rate, thanks to increased fluid levels and greater cardiovascular fitness.
How to reap the benefits: Play a pickup game with friends.
Since heat training challenges your heart, it has the most beneficial effect on cardiovascular exercises like walking or running, rather than strength-building workouts like weightlifting (which are best done in a cooler environment), says Pedemonte. A great place to start is with team sports like soccer, football, ultimate Frisbee or beach volleyball. They’re fun and engaging, but also allow for multiple opportunities to take breaks to rehydrate as you get more in shape, he says.
3. THEY BURN MORE CALORIES
Because your body has to work harder to beat the heat, hot-weather workouts also burn more calories than the same workout would in cooler weather, says Buckingham. However, you also tire out faster in hotter conditions, so you could end up opting for a shorter workout and in turn burning fewer calories. With this in mind, it’s best to choose an activity you’ll actually enjoy (despite the added challenge), so you can stick it out for your usual workout time.
How to reap the benefits: Go on a scenic bike ride.
A stellar beginner’s hot-weather workout is a bike ride because it’s challenging and gets your heart pumping, but also keeps you in control of the intensity level, says Rothstein. Another plus? It also makes for a great vacation workout since you can plan a ride to go sightseeing and finish up with a dip in the ocean or pool to cool off, he says. If you usually hit the hills in cooler weather, start with a flatter route or plan a shorter route to ease yourself into hot-weather cycling.
When done safely, heat training can come with many health benefits, including better heart health, fitness gains and increased calorie burn. However, it’s important to know your limits and listen to your body to avoid overheating or injury. “Patience is a virtue,” says McNamara. “Start easy, and if your session goes well, each subsequent hot weather day you can try to go a little harder or a little longer.” Finally, remember the best workout is one you can stick with. So if you find yourself enjoying exercise inside a cool gym far more than your outdoor workouts, there’s nothing wrong with taking your sweat sessions indoors until the weather cools off again.
Originally published July 2021, updated July 2022
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