Heat can help your training but you need to get the balance right

Only mad dogs, Englishmen and… eager athletes go out in the midday sun. A new study has showed that training in the heat of the day can have positive performance benefits.

Sport science researchers have revealed how 18 days of heat training led to a 9% increase in speed among cyclists. The experts at the University of St Mark & St John in Plymouth, James Cook University in Cairns and the Australian Institute of Sport tracked three groups of riders over an 18-day period.

All participants took part in cycling time trials in the laboratory and there was a control group. Then a heat training group, exercising in 35-degree temperatures and 70% humidity, and a thermo-neutral training group did seven further 40-minute cycling training sessions over 18 days. The third control group avoided these sessions.

While both groups improved more than the control group, the cyclists that heat trained were 9% faster by the end of the study. Heat training helped these athletes to reduce their core temperature and heart rates while training, says the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

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Research group leader, Professor Andrew Edwards of the University of St Mark and St John said: “There is a delicate balance between pushing an athlete’s body to adapt to the heat, without negatively impacting on his or her immune system.”

Crucially, blood tests at the end of the study showed no compromise to the immune systems of the heat trainers.

How to heat train

  1. A few weeks before the big event, carry out interval training sessions in hot conditions. Research suggests seven 40-minute sessions over 18 days would be ideal.
  2. Cool your body as quickly as possible after heat training. This reduces your perception of how hard you have worked and limits tiredness without reducing the benefits of training. Drinking a cold drink, like a slushy, works as well as dunking your body into a cold bath and is a lot more pleasant!
  3.  During exercise, drink to satisfy thirst rather than seek to immediately replace all the fluids you lose through sweat. Sweat loss can be up to 1,200ml an hour, but the human body can only tolerate around 500ml of fluid intake an hour. So ensure you are well hydrated before training or competing, then drink according to thirst during the event and rehydrate properly afterwards. Overhydration is potentially more damaging than moderate dehydration.

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