You may be thinking the heat and humidity in a place like Phuket is more conducive to lazing on a beach with a coconut in hand, but new studies suggest that heat and humidity are also conducive to making you a better athlete.
Heat training has become a hot topic among athletes looking for ways to squeeze out every ounce of their potential. Football players and Formula 1 drivers, cyclists, triathletes, and marathoners – these have all turned to training in the heat to turn up their performance.
The human body’s ability to adapt to the conditions you put it in is what we rely on when we train: stress the body, then allow the body to rest and rebuild so you become stronger and faster. Exactly how does heat acclimation and training in the heat make you a better athlete?
We consulted Thanyapura’s sports scientist Tom Topham on the matter.
1. Deal with hot conditions better. “After 7-10 days of training in the heat, the body becomes acclimatized to the hotter environment,” Topham reveals.
A non-acclimated athlete will feel lethargic in their first few days in the heat because your body has built-in safeguards that tell it to slow down when temperatures rise in order to prevent damage to internal organs, like the brain.
During the process of acclimation, your body learns to sweat more and start to sweat earlier to keep itself cool. The heat also prompts your body to produce more blood plasma (the liquid portion of blood). This increases the amount of blood circulating in your body, helping to cool and fuel exercising muscles better.
The amount of salt lost in sweat decreases as well, leading to better maintenance of electrolyte levels that help muscles function properly.
2. Improve capacity to exercise. Topham says, “During the first 3-4 days of training in the heat, your heart rate will be higher when exercising as the body requires extra energy to cool itself.” Your heart will be pumping hard to circulate blood and dissipate body heat.
But as your blood plasma increases to compensate for this, your heart also needs to get stronger to pump the extra blood. A stronger heart requires fewer beats to push blood through your veins, resulting in a lower heart rate. Your body becomes more efficient, improving endurance and thus performance.
3. Perform better even in cooler conditions. Topham is excited about new research, which suggests the increased efficiency of exercise that occurs when training in the heat can improve performance even in cool conditions. A University of Oregon study conducted on a group of cyclists showed they improved their time-trial performance in cool conditions after 10 days doing just 100 minutes of exercise each day in the heat. It also increased their lactate threshold.
Another study done on elite rowers in New Zealand showed a 1.5% increase in rowing performance over a 2,000-meter distance on as little as 5 days doing 90 minutes of exercise in 40-degree heat and 60% humidity.
“Training in the heat is fast becoming an important part of athlete training programs,” Topham concludes. So if you’re looking for that extra edge in performance, you may just find it training with us in the heat and humidity.
For more information on training in the heat, contact Thanyapura Sport Scientist Tom Topham at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Tom Topham holds a 1st class honours degree in Sports Science (Human Performance) from Brunel University, England. He also comes from a triathlon background, competing as an age-grouper and holds a level 2 triathlon coaching qualification.