Summer doesn't have to mean the death knell for outdoor training
While some of us lack the motivation to get off the sofa even in the most temperate of climates, others continue running, exercising and being general fitness over-achievers all year round, regardless of the searing temperatures and suffocating humidity. And while it can be tempting to call it a day when the thermometer hits 40°C, training in the heat of summer, if done properly, does have immense fitness benefits.
‘Studies have shown that come the winter, there’s a massive increase in both aerobic capacity and performance of those people who have trained over summer,’ says Tom Woolf of local performance training group PTX Dubai. ‘From an elite athlete’s perspective, training in the off season benefits their race season when it’s cooler – there’s a six to eight per cent performance boost in normal conditions after training in extreme heat.’
The UAE rugby team are currently competing in the Asian Five Nations and are forced to train through the hot summer months. ‘It’s about enduring pain, at end of the day,’ says UAE rugby coach Bruce Birtwistle. ‘Your threshold for pain starts to increase in the heat. You’re training with more fatigue in the heat, so when you’re actually in a situation where you need to turn training into performance, it should translate.’
The UAE’s temperatures have long attracted some of sport’s top professionals, though it’s usually in the winter months that the likes of Roger Federer come out to train, or British rugby teams such as Wasps and Harlequins (who played an Aviva Premiership fixture in Abu Dhabi) will take respite from the UK’s harsh winter weather. However, athletes with year-long seasons, such as runners and triathletes, will often use Dubai as a transitory base when they move from the northern to southern hemisphere to compete in events.
Candice Howe, who is currently competing in the World Crossfit Games, says that heat is a stressor that throws the body off its homeostatic balance. ‘To maintain its temperature at 37˚C, the body sweats more and increases internal metabolism in order to remove heat from the body. These responses improve performance and heat tolerance.’ Candice also points out that organs including the heart and kidneys, as well as sweat glands and hormones, adapt to heat training, resulting in improved cardiovascular functions.
So, while it seems that training in the heat benefits athletes who want to perform better, it does come with its dangers. First is dehydration. Tom points out that athletes training in the Dubai summer are likely to sweat 15 to 20 per cent more, so they need to take on an extra 500ml of fluid for every 30 minutes of exercise. The increase in sweat can also result in chafing, which is why it’s important for athletes (especially in long-distance sports such as cycling and running) to dress appropriately. ‘Wear light, loose fitting and porous clothing to allow skin cooling by evaporation through sweat,’ advises Candice. Dri-fit clothing has been developed by all major sports brands, meaning the options are abundant. And even the colour of your clothing can make a difference. ‘I don’t know the stats,’ admits Tom. ‘But I feel awful if I wear black for running.’
Keeping the sun off your head is also important, so wear a hat or cap if you’re out in the day to protect from heat exhaustion. ‘Know the signs and symptoms of the common heat illnesses [such as dizziness and nausea] and be wary of them in yourself and training partners,’ warns Candice. ‘Your body needs time to adapt and respond. Once you feel it has improved, you can increase the intensity, which will yield greater performances in competition than increasing the duration of your session.’
Ultimately, the key to safe and successful heat training is preparation, both before and after you exercise. Tom points out that athletes should always ensure they’ve got somewhere cool to go back to – more serious athletes might consider an ice bath to cool down. Ice baths also constrict blood vessels to flush out lactic acid and reduce swelling. Rehydration is also essential: fluids containing carbohydrate and sodium are recommended because these are lost through training and, consequently, sweating in the heat. About three litres of water should be consumed in the three hours after you’ve finished training. While the temptation will be to drink iced water, temperate water is recommended because it’s more easily absorbed by the body.
‘If you’re doing extreme long-distance training,’ concludes Tom, ‘make sure someone is aware of where you are and where you’re training.’ For the majority of us, this will be an air-conditioned gym, but for those who want to take on the summer, now’s the time to do it.