Tips for Exercising in the Summer Heat

Published May 9, 2017

By Noah Raizman, M.D. 

There is nothing like bright sunshine and beautiful weather to invite us outside. But as the temperatures climb, exercising outside becomes much more strenuous – and can even lead to injury without careful preparation.

That’s because your heat load increases significantly when you work out, and your body must disperse this heat in order to regulate your body temperature. This is typically done through sweat and evaporation. But the summer heat and humidity both limit the amount of evaporation that can occur, preventing your body from removing the excess heat. Hot temperatures also cause you to sweat more, which can cause dehydration.

This is your biggest concern when exercising in the summer heat, because dehydration has a direct effect on your cardiovascular system. This will impact both your endurance and performance, but more importantly, inefficient muscles are unable to clear the byproducts of metabolism as fast as it’s needed. This can lead to cramping and fatigue.

The good news is that dehydration – and all its negative effects – can be avoided, even on a hot day. Here are my top recommendations for planning your summer workouts:

Plan to hydrate before – and during – your workout, not just after. Once your workout is over, it is often too late to quickly and effectively hydrate, and much of the damage is already done. It’s much easier to start well-hydrated and replenish your water intake throughout the workout than to drink a full water bottle after you finish. The better hydrated you are before and during your exercise, the less fatigue you are likely to feel during training and the less soreness you are likely to have afterwards.

Replace nutrients. In order to maximize your hydration, research suggests that you want to have a small amount of protein and a moderate amount of carbohydrates with whatever you drink. It’s also important to replace the electrolytes that you are losing through exercise. In general, over-the-counter hydration aids like Gatorade work well, and are sometimes preferable to drinking copious amounts of pure water from a hydration standpoint.

Pick your battles. Because your body has to work so much harder in the heat, it is harder to increase the intensity of your workouts or train for long events in the summer’s mid-day heat. Understand your limitations and what you may be up against, and decide which challenges to tackle. It’s easier to train for a marathon in September than it is in July, especially in the D.C. area. If you decide to train in the summer heat, be aware that you’re fighting two battles instead of one.

Adjust your timing. It’s always wise to avoid the hot mid-afternoon by scheduling an early morning or evening workout. The temperatures are lower, so your body will experience less stress and your workout will go more smoothly.

Consider shorter workouts. Endurance athletes are most heavily impacted by the heat and humidity, and are therefore more at risk of dehydration than someone with a shorter workout. If you aren’t  training for a marathon, the summer is a great time to switch up your routine with high-intensity interval training or indoor workouts to limit your time in the heat.

Dr. Noah Raizman is an orthopaedic surgeon in the Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery care center in Washington, D.C. He specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery, with a particular interest in minimally invasive approaches to surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome and Dupuytren’s contracture. An athlete himself, Dr. Raizman is also interested in sports medicine and has cared for a variety of professional athletes, including players on the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers and the PGA Tour. He has also provided care for George Washington University athletics, D.C. high school football games, Gallaudet University and the Marine Corps Marathon.