Four Benefits of Heat Training for Endurance Athletes

Summer may be almost over, but heat advisories are still taking over the weather map nationwide. There are many ways the heat makes it more difficult for athletes to train, but here are a few ways to keep training hard while being safe. 

As long as you approach training safely, training in hot weather can not only be fun but it could make you a better athlete in the long run.

Heat Adaptations Improve Physical and Mental Performance

Training in heat over a certain period of time—typically, at least a week to 10 days— has been proven to improve performance in both cold and hot climates…in some studies, by as much as 4% to 8%. For competitive athletes, this might mean the difference between snagging a top spot in the age group or finishing a race a few seconds off the podium. 

Get used to running in the heat, and those early-morning races will feel like a cool breeze. If race day ends up hotter than usual, you’ll be well prepared for that too physically and mentally. So while your competitors stress over having to race in what they might deem an unsafe, unfamiliar environment, your body and mind will be at ease, knowing you have had practice with heat and know how to handle it.

Heat Training Increases Plasma Volume

Plasma transports blood cells around your body. Simply put, more plasma means more oxygen being carried around in your blood cells, to feed your hard-working muscles. Plasma volume decreases during prolonged exercise, so the more of it you have to begin with, the longer your body will feel great while exercising hard.

You Get Your Full of Vitamin D

A widely-cited clinical study published in the March 2010 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that 59% of test subjects — healthy young women living in Southern California— were vitamin D-deficient. Crazy, right? Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and insufficiency is linked to increased body fat and decreased muscle strength. Get your daily dose on a sunny run; just don’t overdo it. Wear sunscreen.

Train in Conditions Specific to Events 

Has the thought of running an ultra marathon, multi-day running event, or triathlon entered your mind? Those ultra-long distance or duration events will almost certainly require you to run smack in the middle of the day, and the best way to get ready for something like that is to train at the time you would race. Athletes training for a long-course triathlon can reasonably expect to run a half marathon some time between 10am and 1pm, for example; ultra-marathon runners will be out on those trails for the better part of the day. In those cases, applying the specificity of training principle would involve, among other things, running in conditions you can reasonably expect for your race. 

Train Smart in the Heat

Needless to say, the benefits of heat training could easily be outweighed by the risks for those who are not taking the necessary precautions. Youth athletes should avoid strenuous activity in the heat altogether, as their thermoregulatory systems have not matured yet, causing a delayed response and ability to react to and protect from heat and humidity. Anyone who might consider themselves at risk while exercising in heat should get clearance by their doctor first, and after you do, read up on what happens to your body in the heat.

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