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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Peterson

The Heat is On: Heat Training Recommendations to Maximize Performance in Hot Temperatures

Temps are increasing and summer racing goals are getting closer or are already here. What considerations should you take as you continue to work hard in the thick of the training block? How do you approach a race where the conditions are looking to be at an all time high? And finally, what can you do if our own environment does not replicate the temperatures of your goal race environment?  


There are varying protocols and opinions on the “right way” to prepare for a race that will be in a warmer environment. However, there are some generally agreed upon foundational principles to consider as you prepare for warm conditions. These include: 


  • Focus on hydration - both during and outside of training

  • Stay wet - use of ice water, sponging over head, ice bandana, wet arm sleeves, etc

  • Slow down - go off of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) versus pacing metrics; it is expected to run slower with a higher effort as your body adapts to the heat

  • Slowly ease into hotter temperatures - diversify the time of day that you train (if your schedule allows); run during cooler temperatures and progressively build toward warmer temperatures

  • Complete key workouts in cooler temperatures - use easy days as days to transition into hotter temperatures, preserve workout quality by avoiding heat



Formal Heat Training Recommendations

Heat training in a specific, focused way is best used leading directly up to a race or key event. Specific heat training protocols help the body acclimate, increase efficiency in all of the body systems and allow optimal performance, despite the hotter temperatures. Keep in mind that heat acclimation gains are not all long lasting. Once the specific heat training stops, you have approximately one week to benefit from the gains (CDC, NIOSH, 2017). When this specific regiment ends, you will slowly lose the acclimation you built.


While heat training can lead to improved performance gains, heat training can also drain your energy stores and therefore hinder training gains you were looking to make. Consequently, the timing and design of your heat training is quite critical.


I'll go into this in detail so you can design your heat training program, taking information and recommendations based on my experience and philosophies (again these vary and will likely need to be customized to each individual athlete).


Structure:

As previously mentioned, there are many viewpoints on “protocols” for proper heat training, so this article is sharing one point of view that can be altered and modified as needed to suit an athlete’s environment, access to hot temperatures, tolerance to heat, etc. The key component is sustained exposure to warmer temperatures while you are doing an activity (ideally running). The recommended philosophy is 60-90 minutes of activity while exposed to hotter temperatures (ideally close to 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit / 30-32 degrees Celsius). This recommendation is for a daily, cumulative period of time of 7-14 days.


Timing: 

The timing of this structured heat training is critical. Again, the effects of this training do not last beyond a period of seven days, but it can lead to fatigue and impact your training, especially if overdone. The recommended timing for this more formal heat training protocol is leading up to your race as close as possible, but completion 4-5 days prior to your event, to ensure your body can recover, the effects can set in and you maximize your taper. 


Overview of Heat Training Recommendations

Temperature

85-90 degrees F / 30-32 degrees C

Duration of Activity

60-90 minutes

Quantity of Days

7-14 days

Cessation of Heat Training

4-5 days prior to event


How and Why:

Not everyone can complete this in the actual environment they will be racing in, at the precise temperatures that you will experience on race day (or even at the precise temperature of the recommended protocol). However, there are many ways to simulate and alter your method of heat acclimation to still achieve the best results.


The two most common ways of simulating hotter race conditions are:


  • Overdressing during your training

  • Use of Sauna or other external heat source 


In my opinion the use of overdressing while running can be the most optimal. This allows you to run in “real” conditions, practicing timing for real hydration strategies and truly feel the heat and learn the effects on your body when you add it to running. This can be done with puffy coats, various layering strategies, running in pants, wearing a hat and more. There is a key component that MUST be paired with all heat training, but specific pre-race heat training the most. That key component is working on replenishing fluids and electrolytes as your body sweats and dehydrates with activity. This is the entire point of heat training, to train your body to efficiently deplete and replenish the fueling system (water and electrolytes) during activity.


You can calculate your sweat rate and determine your fueling consumption quantities and timing formally and incorporate this during your heat training, but ultimately it is conditioning your mind and your body to consume more fluids than you might otherwise consume in cooler temperatures. It is also important to ensure your brand of fueling choice continues to be effective and tolerated well by the body when you use it in the hotter temperatures. This period of time is truly training your body to metabolize efficiently, testing your products and quantities to dial in what your body requires and to create an action plan for proper execution during your upcoming event. 


Using the sauna can be another great addition to your heat training (in general as well as during the structured timing leading into a race). If you are in your taper and feeling excessive fatigue with a 90 minute run, you can do a 45-60 minute run and then go to the sauna for a 15-20 minute period of time. Sitting quiet in the sauna still has an effect on heat acclimation (as long as you are adequately rehydrating), but you could add some mobility drills, yoga, core or activation drills to increase the demands on your body and simulate the running demands during this process. The sauna can also be used for a greater duration of your training block in shorter, less frequent sessions. This can be helpful in the early transition of seasons to promote efficient acclimation and to sustain this acclimation throughout your training block. This use of heat acclimation is best used in a more infrequent, nonconsecutive fashion. The idea is to not overtax your body by continually stressing it in a more demanding environment, but to periodically add this element into your training while still allowing recovery and re-stabilization of all of your systems to promote optimal training. 


To conclude, the bottom line with heat training is to:


  • BE SAFE

  • KNOW YOUR BODY

  • STAY HYDRATED

  • STAY WET

  • KNOW WHEN TO BACK OFF

Heat illness and exhaustion can be a very dangerous reality as we push our bodies in temperatures where there can be severe consequences if the right protective measures and considerations aren’t implemented. 


Now that you have some of the foundational information and recommendations, get out there and determine what your mind and body need in your individualized protocol execution. I hope this was helpful and best of luck to everyone chasing goals during the hot summer months!





Coach Brittany Peterson with Peak Run Performance

Brittany Peterson is a Running Coach at Peak Run Performance and a professional trail and ultra runner with the Nike Trail Team. She has had several wins in key races throughout the world and has been a 3-time finisher at the Western States Endurance Run, with 2 of her 3 results being in the top 5. She comes from a history of track and field and road marathon running as well and loves coaching athletes of all ages, abilities, in all terrains and with any goal in mind.


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