How To Beat The Heat, Stay Motivated & Fit This Summer
With the winter blues far behind us and summer finally here in Australia, you may have felt your motivation to exercise rising and are ready to bust out of the cocoon of the colder months.
Even though running in the rain is likely to have a rise in popularity with higher than average rainfall forecasted for Australia's 2021-22 summer, it doesn't mean the scorching heat will step aside.
Exercising in the summer heat has its own challenges with staying hydrated and preventing heat exhaustion among the most critical to address. Hot summers provide an excuse to put our fitness on the sidelines – but it doesn’t have to be this way and there are ways to work around it and even make the heat work in your favour.
We uncover the how, when, where and what of beating the heat this summer.
Adapt your training to be summer-friendly
Trade road runs for beach or trail
For runners, the road may beckon to you with its smooth, consistent nature. However, being black and dense, road surfaces absorb heat readily from the sun - meaning your urban running route may not be as inviting in summer.
Beach running offers two-in-one benefits – with sand lowering the impact on your joints compared to hard road surfaces, but putting a higher demand on your body in terms of effort by offering greater resistance. With the ocean just a step away to cool down and recover, it’s a great option as long as you come prepared with sun protection like sunscreen, sports sunglasses and a running cap.
You can even trade your road running for trail running to help keep cool, as many bush trails are surrounded by trees for natural shade. Just remember you may be sharing the trails with wildlife, so be aware of Australian snake bite prevention and treatment as humans aren't the only species with a summer-loving attitude.
Take your fitness to the water
Taking your fitness to the water is an obvious summer favourite - meaning hitting the beach or local pool is at the top of the list to stay cool while staying active. Swimming can make you a better runner and surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and beach volleyball can motivate your kids to exercise and diversify your routine.
Choose low-intensity exercise when the temperature climbs
Although a sports watch can provide valuable performance data for athletes of all levels, remember not every run or workout has to be tracked or end in achieving a PB. There is no harm in slowing down the pace, listening to your body and adapting your training based on the external conditions to exercise safely in summer.
To change it up, set up your yoga mat in a shady spot outdoors and try a mat-based workout like these rejuvenating yoga exercises. This will allow you to enjoy the feel-good vibes of nature and the mood-boosting benefits of getting your body moving, without going overkill on the intensity or duration of your summer workout.
The When & Where:
The time & place you exercise can make all the difference
Cross-train indoors during the hottest parts of the day
During the hours of the day where UV is strongest and the temperature is at its peak (usually 10am – 3pm) it can be a safer bet exercising indoors in an air-conditioned space like your local gym or home gym.
Summer is an ideal time to lace up in your training shoes for indoor fitness. Being able to train in a temperature controlled environment means there’s no stopping you – anything from high-intensity kettlebell exercises and dumbbell exercises to virtual Zumba classes are on the cards.
Cross-training indoors will allow you to work out your muscles in a variety of ways to improve your strength, flexibility and overall fitness rather than sticking to a cycling or running-only routine.
Both of these sports are amazing for your cardiovascular (heart) health. However, like a well-balanced diet to nourish your body, a varied and balanced fitness routine is best to avoid particular muscles being neglected while others are overworked through repetitive movement.
Run or cycle outdoors during the coolest parts of the day
For outdoor runners and cyclists, it pays to plan your workouts for the early morning or evening to enjoy your sport without the heat weighing you down or putting you at risk.
There's no doubt that a early morning run can elevate your mood for the rest of the day and stimulate creativity that you can apply into your work or hobbies. Similarly, an evening run allows you to unwind and rejuvenate after a chock-full schedule like you would by reading a book or soaking in a bath - with the plus side of putting your legs to work.
It feels good to move. After sitting stiff at a desk for hours, a run on a cool summer night can feel like an amazing reward for both your body and mind, relieving stress and putting the 'business' of the day to rest. When the sun goes to sleep, make sure you gear up with visibility accessories to increase your safety and stay noticed by other road users on your night runs.
Know the sun better to train smarter
Training sun safe isn't just about the weather forecast, but the UV forecast. You can still get sunburnt on an overcast day, but with the smartphone era it's easier than ever to take care of your skin.
Recommended by the Cancer Council, the free SunSmart app allows you to check the temperature to plan your outdoor training at a time of day that won't leave you melting like an ice cream cone.
Just as importantly, it allows you to train smarter and safer by keeping track of cancer-causing UV rays which are invisible to the eye and can not simply be judged based on heat or brightness. This allows you to make informed decisions about your sun protection, including when you exercise outdoors and how much sunscreen to apply.
Gear up & cool down with summer exercise essentials
Go short: Shorts, short sleeves & sleeveless tops
Support your body on its mission to sweat, rather than inhibiting it. Trade in full-length tights for cropped tights or running shorts. Swapping winter layers and longer coverage for running t-shirts or running singlets and tank tops ensures more skin is exposed. With less fabric in the way, evaporative cooling is free to do its thing. Just be sure that any exposed skin is protected with UPF 50+ sunscreen.
Ultra-breathable long sleeve running t-shirts can work if you want to go long when the temperature drops, particularly those with a UPF 50+ sun protection rating that will help shield your skin.
Wear light & loose running gear
Keep it light - lightweight clothing for unrestricted movement and light colours that reflect the heat rather than absorb it are a go-to in your summer workout wardrobe. It's not just about the heat of the sun - loose clothing is also a favourite in your warm weather rotation to allow the heat generated by your body to escape during activity. Being aware of how your body responds to heat stress can highlight why certain clothing choices are best.
When the external temperature or intensity of your workout climbs, so does your internal body temperature. Your body directs more blood away from your muscles to increase blood circulation through your skin - and your heart has to work harder to achieve this.
This raises your skin temperature to take the burden of heat off your core and transfer it to where it can more readily escape. This natural cooling mechanism works hand-in-hand with perspiration to regulate your core temperature and reduce risk of overheating.
It's important to let your body do it's thing to keep you cool - and wearing loose, light and airy clothing is a part of that to beat the heat.
What about your go-to running tights?
If you love tights that's still A-OK - you don't have to retire them for summer. A body-hugging feel that moves with you has plenty of perks, just make sure they are running tights or training tights instead of thick, cotton leggings for everyday wear.
Key words to look out for when shopping for summer running and training gear include breathable and mesh for superior air circulation and sweat-wicking – and this goes for everything from finding the best running socks to care for your feet, to running tights, sports bras, running t-shirts and running tanks.
Choose sweat-wicking over sweat-absorbing
Let’s talk about fabric and why your fabric choices are important. Cotton provides natural softness and stretch, but is also naturally sweat-absorbing, not sweat-wicking. Cotton is a favourite for off-duty days, but clothing with a high cotton content is not suitable for exercise as it traps sweat, holding it against your body.
This is why technical apparel is made of synthetic materials like polyester. Sweat-wicking performance fabrics transfer sweat to the exterior of the garment – allowing evaporative cooling to take place. Remember if you’re cool and comfortable, you’ll be more motivated to lace up to run, cycle or train free of distractions.
Top it off with summer-ready headwear
To top off your summer fitness wardrobe the right way, running caps with in-built sweatbands can keep you comfortable by keeping sweat out of your eyes and off your forehead. Many are perforated to allow heat and humidity to escape from under the cap, otherwise you can choose a running visor with an open top.
A running visor won't protect the top of your head from the sun (be aware you can get skin cancer on your scalp, even if you have a head full of a hair) but will encourage the fast evaporation of sweat and may be more suitable when UV levels are lower. Sweatbands like Halo headbands are another option to keep the sting of sweat out of your eyes and under control, but again they don't provide the same coverage of a running cap.
Top running sunglasses will provide protection against harmful UVA and UVA rays and polarised lenses offer a glare-reducing design so you don't have to squint to tolerate bright natural light. Sports sunnies are designed to stay-put on your face during activity for zero distractions.
Happy summer running!