Training in the HeatDonovan van Gelder
In the middle of a South African Summer, it is inevitable that we are going to spend at least some of our racing time in the heat of the day. For those of us who are used to getting up in the wee hours of the morning to train, or those of us who spend a lot of time training indoors in air conditioned bliss, racing in the heat of the day can come as a massive shock to the system. So, it is definitely advisable to spend some of our training time in the hotter part of the day in order to acclimatize as much as we can to the heat.
The need to stimulate the body to perform in hot conditions should be fairly easy for everyone to understand but there are other benefits to training in the heat that might not be as obvious. The big discussion in endurance sports is generally centred around training at altitude and the associated benefits that will carry over to racing at lower heights above sea level, but this is harder for the average Joe to accomplish. Who has the time or resources to spend a few weeks at over 2000m? Most South Africans however, have the opportunity to do some, if not all of our training at over thirty degrees during January, February and March.
Here are some of the physiological benefits that training in the heat has shown in numerous scientific studies:
Lower core temperature at the onset of sweating – Increasing our sweat rate and starting to sweat earlier in our races will improve performance by maintaining a cooler core temperature and the body ‘not waiting’ until the core temperature is elevated before sweating.
Increased blood plasma volume – Plasma is the liquid component in your blood. This helps the blood transport nutrients through the body, and may also help the body cool itself. It also protects the body against the dangers of dehydration. More plasma protects the blood from getting excessively thick as the body dehydrates.
Lower resting body temperature – The body normally produces a large amount of heat just to keep warm, heat training causes it to adapt by producing less heat.
The left ventricle of the heart strengthens, improving its output – In other words, your heart becomes more efficient and pumps more blood, faster.
Increased oxygen consumption – Heat training has been shown to significantly improve VO2 Max, which refers to the maximum amount of oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise.
Obviously caution needs to be exercised when deliberately planning to train in hot temperatures. First and foremost, there is no extra benefit through contact with UV rays. We are not trying to photosynthesis. So lather on the factor 50 and wear sun-protective clothing. The other big thing to pay attention to is hydration. Spend time before the session hydrating well and plan the session so that you can have regular drinks along the way. After the session replace both liquids and electrolytes which will have been lost in the sweat.
Remember as well, that high temperatures will suppress performances, so don’t expect to be able to perform the same speed and power outputs that you can at favourable temperatures. It is probably better to focus the heat training on more endurance type efforts where the intensity is lower. While spending more time in the heat will also carry more benefit in overall adaption, it is a good idea to phase in the time spent in the heat as we would increasing training volume, over a period of weeks.
Turn our hot, summer months into a training advantage that will not only help you perform better at the hot races now but will also carry over numerous benefits for the rest of the year’s cooler events.