Running in the Heat is a Great Workout!

I overheard this comment from a runner recently. He was bragging about how running in 100F+ (42c+) degrees was such a great workout. He went on to state that it’ll get him in shape faster.

On the surface it almost sounds feasible. Heat creates further stress on your body. You have to work harder (both subjectively and objectively) to do the same workouts.

I’ve known runners who even INCREASE the heat by wearing body suits, warm-up outfits and even worse – plastic type body outfits. This practice is something that many archaic neanderthal coaches in wrestling still advocate to this day! This is all in the name of getting in better shape (oh and losing weight in the case of the wrestlers).

Sorry to say we need to dispel this myth. It is more than well documented that heat – especially excessive heat…
1. slows you down
2. reduces the amount of work you can do
3. is downright dangerous

Fact: You will never race (or run typical track workouts i.e. 8×800) as fast in heat as you will in moderate temperatures.

Fact: Heat build up in your body ultimately reduces what a body can do.

Fact: Force yourself to run too far or too fast or assume you can push paces and distances similar to moderate temperatures and you can cause physical damage – up to and including death.

Running in heat is an unavoidable fact of life for many of us – especially those of us in the southwest. For five months our daily high temperatures will be over 100F degrees. Even in the evenings it remains in the 90s. We’ve even had overnight lows never go below 100F (though rare it happens). So, running in the heat is doable. But we should not confuse this with getting us in better shape or doing some miracle conditioning for us lucky ones.

The bottom line facts are:
You will run somewhat slower in the heat.
You will not run as far in the heat.
Therefore, your conditioning will suffer to some degree in the heat – NOT improve!
And these statements go double for anyone who is not already in good shape already – BEFORE – the heat commences.

What can you do?
Get acclimated to running in the heat by running regularly (not even everyday) in the warm part of the day. I don’t advocate just going out at three in the afternoon in 110F degrees. Let’s get real. But, running when its in the 90s in the early mornings or evenings and the occasional 100F degree run may be doable. By running in small doses in the heat you acclimate. You will handle the heat better.

Slow down your pace on your typical run. But still get out and run.

Go on shorter runs. Something is better than nothing.

Do some track workouts but modify what you do. Keep intervals shorter (200-400 for instance instead of mile repeats). Have longer rest intervals and drink fluids. By keeping some modest speed work in your repertoire you will retain much of your hard earned speed from the spring.

Now, I have not addressed the psychological impact of running in the heat. If you persist through the (modified) hot weather runs then naturally it should bolster your mental toughness. It builds character!

PS – a tidbit – living in hot climates does not automatically acclimate you to exercising in hot climates; neither does running indoors on a treadmill (though this is a nice option for many).

In the end, do not fool yourself into thinking that running in the heat gets you in better shape. That kind of thinking could kill you.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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7 Responses to Running in the Heat is a Great Workout!

  1. James Kahler says:

    Dean, You are the master and i am the student, but I would add one aspect of running in the heat that I think you might have left out. Some of us runners, especially of the trail running and ultra-running sort, actually have significant portions of our race seasons in the hotter climates and/or hotter months, so for us, heat acclimation becomes a necessity. A great example, of course would be last weekend’s Western States 100. Of course, trail/ultra running is still a niche, and WS, for instance only includes about 350 entrants, we’re still a big (and growing) part of running. A great follow up article you might consider drafting would be to discuss heat acclimation and heat management strategies.


  2. Dean Hebert says:

    You’re absolutely dead on. It’s not just for ultra runners either! Let me get on that… perfect follow-up.

  3. Jeff Kal. says:

    I was out on a nice 75 degree day last week for a run at a local park. When i was done i was a bit sweaty but not too bad. Another fellow came off the trails wearing a full sweat suit, obviously very overheated. He took of his sweat top, then a rubberized suit under it too!! As it came off the water (SWEAT) actually splashed onto the ground with a huge spah-looooosh!! GROSS and, as you said, DANGEROUS.

  4. James Kahler says:

    Jeff, I’ll never forget during my first ultra, which happened to be in D.C. in late August (which translates to upper 90’s in both temps and relative humidity) of this guy who was doing the 50 miler that day running in a full on sweat suit. I mean, everyone else was literally jumping in the ice coolers. I literally threw up moments after crossing the finish line after not being able to keep down, food, water or electrolytes for a couple of hours. But here’s this guy doing it in a sweat suit. No one could figure what he must have been training for.

  5. Dean Hebert says:

    Training for his funeral? Kidney transplant? Hospitalization/ER visit?

    Like they say… “don’t try this at home!”

  6. Chris Barber says:

    I like to “train as I fight,” meaning I like to train in the type of weather that I am going to be racing in. Especially if it is going to be a hot race. Heat seems to wear on you mentally too during a race more than cold; therefore, you should practice running in the heat more than cooler weather.

  7. Dean Hebert says:

    Chris, You hit that on the head! The mental toughness aspect is underestimated. Someone could be very well acclimated to the heat and NOT be mentally tough… and be beaten by someone less acclimated but who trained a mindset to persevere in the heat.

    Indeed you MUST “train as you fight”! It won’t happen that on race day everything magically falls into place if you haven’t prepared for those specific conditions, terrain, environment, etc.

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