As the temperature rises, so does the number of runners abandoning the treadmill for sunshine and fresh air. And that’s great because although running in hot weather can present some challenges (hello, dehydration!), if you exercise smartly, it can also work to your advantage. Research shows that once you’re acclimated, training in heat can actually boost your performance, making you fitter, stronger, and faster. The trick is hanging in there until your body adjusts. Use the five tips below to get over the hump and then keep running strong all summer long.
Running in Hot Weather: A Survival Guide
Consider “cool” clothes. It’s hot outside, so dressing appropriately—shorts, tees, and tanks—is a given. But it’s a good idea to go a step further with light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics, and don’t forget key accessories like a visor, sunglasses, and sunscreen. There are also clothing options available that can help to promote cooling, such as sun sleeves and cooling vests.
Prevent the rub. Sweating a lot can increase your risk of chafing. Cover problem spots, such as under your arms and between your thighs, with an anti-chafing and anti-blister balm, if necessary, says Tawnee Gibson, a certified USA Triathlon coach and host of the Endurance Planet podcast.
Modify your pace. “If you’re not used to training in hot weather, it generally takes about two weeks of consistent heat exposure to adjust,” says Gibson. “When starting out, you simply have to slow down or your heart rate will skyrocket,” which can defeat the purpose of target heart rate training.
To find your new starting pace, run two to four miles at a target heart rate of 180 minus your age. (So if you are 35, you should aim to keep your heart rate around 145 beats per minute.) “Stay at this heart rate until you see your pace get faster and then plateau,” says Gibson. “Once you plateau, you can add more intensity.” If you’re a complete newbie, you may need to alternate periods of running and walking to stay within your heart rate zone.
Drink enough water. It’s no secret that proper hydration is key to staying safe while running in hot weather, but in rare cases over-hydrating can cause issues, too. Hyponatremia—a condition that occurs when your body loses too much sodium through sweat, or when overhydration causes sodium in your blood to drop to life-threatening levels—can be a real risk for some exercisers.
To keep your hydration in check, drink at least 1 to 2 liters of water a day and about 10 to 30 ounces per hour while exercising and then adjust as necessary. Still thirsty? Urine dark? Increase your intake.
For a little boost, add a generous amount of crushed ice to your pre-workout water: Research shows that downing an icy drink 30 minutes before exercise can help you run longer before needing to stop.
Replace electrolytes. Exercising under the summer sun can make for some seriously sweaty conditions. And with all that water loss comes a drop in sodium and electrolytes, too—that’s Why Athletes Need to Think About Salt. If you’re an especially heavy or salty sweater, or happen to be prone to muscle cramps, Gibson recommends having a professional sweat test done to figure out how much sodium you’re losing. To replace sodium and other electrolytes, consider sipping sports drinks or adding some salt to your diet, says triathlete and certified sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci.
Seek relief. Take steps to cool yourself whenever you can. Running in the shade and avoiding direct sunlight can reduce the risk of heatstroke and sunburn, while also making for a more enjoyable workout. And, hey, running through the occasional sprinkler along your route won’t hurt!
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.