How to Mentally Approach Outdoor Summer Workouts

Summer days are made for being outdoors—as safely as we can. On top of providing some vitamin D, spending time in nature boosts our mood and can help reduce stress. At the same time, the idea of an outdoor summer workout can be a little intimidating. The additional heat and humidity pose challenges.

Beyond the basic advice to wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, work out earlier in the day, wear light colors, and stay in the shade when you can, it’s also helpful to adjust your mindset before doing outdoor summer workouts. You may have heard “don’t push it” or “give yourself a break.” But that’s all easier said than done. So we asked Dave Caldwell, head coach of Whisper Running, how to actually achieve these goals so you stay safe and continue to love exercising.

Tip: Don’t push it

Make it happen: Check your heart rate

“If you are just starting out, be sure you are eating sufficiently, staying hydrated, and starting off gradually,” Caldwell says. Otherwise, exhaustion may force you to sideline yourself. Then, whatever your fitness level, monitor your heart rate to check that you don’t push too hard during your workouts. Your Fitbit device can help you stay in the right zone while you exercise with Active Zone Minutes. The on-wrist alerts will let you know when you’re pushing too hard and need to slow down.

Keep in mind that if you’re running or doing HIIT training, your heart may intermittently reach these high levels but it should not stay there for a long time, otherwise you risk a quick burnout and prolonged soreness.

Tip: Don’t expect a PR

Make it happen: Rethink the definition of “PR”

Tough conditions make it tough to break any records. While it’s natural to seek improvement, when it comes to exercise plans, “fall months should look different than spring, and summer different from winter,” Caldwell says. So consider setting different goals for each season, allowing for a good degree of variance among these. 

And remember that what you do now—including embracing the fact that the elements are taxing your body—will help you reach your long-term goals. “New athletes may be lucky enough to PR several times in a single season, but seasoned athletes—ones who understand the value and principles of training—will be patient yet persistent in their pursuits, preparing for the ideal time to hit their peak,” Caldwell adds.

Make sure not to beat yourself up—it’s natural to see a change in your performance on hotter, humid days, so try to be flexible. Instead, check in with yourself mid-workout. “You must respect the environmental conditions,” says Caldwell, who notes that signage at the 2012 Boston Marathon—where a heatwave elevated temperatures by as much as 25 degrees so that it reached into the 90s on race day—read “Reevaluate your goals.” 

Tip: Give yourself a break

Make it happen: Think big picture

The idea of slowing down during a workout or taking an entire day off is foreign to some exercisers. But “life presents many stresses, especially lately, and we must respect those stresses by adapting through changes in the exercise workload. This means continuing a regular pattern of exercise while temporarily decreasing the intensity of the workouts,” Caldwell says. “Whether it’s a break in the middle of a workout, or a break spanning a few days, both bring great value for the long-haul.”

So if you struggle to acknowledge that it truly is too hot to workout outside or to reduce your intensity mid-circuit, remember your big-picture goal. Hitting it too hard today and ignoring your body’s signals that it needs a break isn’t worth possibly giving yourself heat exhaustion and being forced to take at least a day—if not several—off. 

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