Although practically everything might seem to come to a standstill in Britain when the extremes of temperature are reached, a heat wave does not mean that you need to stop your training regime.
Many athletes and top sportsmen and women actually need to train in high temperatures to acclimatise them for travel to hotter climes, and to ensure they are performing at a higher level when they eventually compete.
In running, for every ten degree increase in air temperature above 55 degrees, there is between 1.5-3 per cent increase in the average finishing time for a marathon. This is due to a number of factors including dehydration, increased heart rate, reduced blood flow and less oxygen reaching the muscles.
While it’s possible to still train well – you need to alter your expectations when training in the heat. It’s unlikely that you’ll achieve the same kind of performance that you would under cooler conditions.
What happens in the heat?
When exposed to heat, your body cools itself through sweating, or to give it its scientific name, perspiration.
This has a cooling effect on the body because it removes excess heat through evaporation. When humidity is low, evaporation increases; when humidity is high, the rate of evaporation decreases and less cooling occurs.
While sweating helps to keep us cool, critically we are losing fluids and this is when dehydration can occur – something which has a profound effect on performance. A loss of just two per cent of your body weight can lead to a four-six per cent drop in performance.
Also, during sweating your blood volume decreases. As blood plasma has an important role in cooling the body, rather than going the muscles the blood is directed to the skin. This results in less energy and the inability to maintain the same pace or effort as on a cool day.
How to minimise the negative impact of heat
A side effect of running and aerobic training is an increase in blood plasma volume. This is why fitter athletes adapt better to the heat and can keep cooler more efficiently.
Regular training, and training in the heat can help to maintain better pace and a quicker onset of sweating. But to get to that stage you have to face the heat for about two weeks.
Acclimatisation can take you only so far and the performance levels in heat will be affected, so it’s best to do your usual training, but modify it to the conditions. So for example if you usually run a 10K in 20 minutes, aim to run it slightly over that time. Don’t push yourself to dehydration is the key point.
Listen to your body to tell you when it’s time to ease off or take a break. Make sure you are always conscious of taking on fluids.
Competing in the heat
It’s a little bit galling when you’ve trained all year in cooler temperatures and on competition day the mercury is rising to the top. This is why it’s all about adjusting your preparation and your expectations. If you can anticipate a hot day for your event, you can get your body used to losing heat more efficiently. Wear more clothes during training in the run up to the day so you are working at a hotter temperature, and before the race itself stay as cool as possible.
A shorter warm up might be necessary to prevent the loss of electrolytes during the event.
The likelihood is that with all this prep, you’ll still end up being slower than you would have been in cooler conditions. You can still maintain the effort, and you’ll judge this on factors including the heaviness of your breathing and the discomfort you’re feeling.
If you can also understand that everyone else competing is under the same conditions, and experiencing the same struggles then you can prevent yourself getting discouraged by the situation. Most likely everyone’s time or performance will drop, just as yours will. Mentally it’s harder to train or compete in the heat, but aside from it taking longer, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same amount of training.
During tennis matches in extreme heat you’ll see the players taking on extra electrolytes through their sports drinks, and keeping cool as best they can. Runners need to dress accordingly and again take on fluids throughout a race as well as foods that release energy efficiently.
With small steps and a lot of preparation, you can use heat training to your benefit, and you’ll see yourself improving dramatically. The best results will come when you’ve done all your training in the heat, and you end up competing on a cool day.
So embrace the heat wave, and see it as an opportunity to get some real hot weather training under your belt. It will no doubt improve your overall performance.
by Kath Webb
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