Will working out in the heat improve your fitness?

If you’ve tried to exercise in the heat, you probably know just how much of a struggle it can be. But can exercising in the warm weather actually improve your fitness?

When the weather is really hot, the last thing most of us want to do is work out, particularly if your gym doesn’t have air conditioning or you’re an outdoor workout devotee. But even if they seem few and far between, the UK does experience heatwaves where temperatures exceed 25°C. Plus, many of us will finally be jetting off to warmer climates this year – so does this mean totally abandoning exercise?

This certainly doesn’t have to be the case, and there are many ways to adapt your workout routine when temperatures rise. Plus, there are even workout styles that are dedicated to testing your limits in the heat, such as hot yoga and even hot HIIT.

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Is working out in the heat good for you?

So how does working out in the heat affect your fitness levels? According to a 2010 study by the University of Oregon, heat acclimation exposure (aka working out in increasingly high temperatures) has ergogenic benefits that will enhance your energy levels and improve your recovery, even when you go back to working out in normal temperatures. 

The study conducted exercise tests on 12 highly trained cyclists before and after a 10-day heat acclimation programme and they found that their performance increased by 7% after their time working out in the heat. 

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“Exercising in the heat means more blood is sent to the muscles, so you can keep exercising, and your body will also send more blood to the skin to help you cool down,” says Deep Heat’s physiotherapist Sammy Margo. “This competition between the muscles and the skin for blood means that the blood creates more plasma, which can improve performance when you exercise in cooler conditions and may improve the oxygen content of the blood and stimulate the heart.”

Regularly working out during hot weather will also make your body more able to regulate its temperature, which can be useful for sweaty cardio sessions in the future (or if the air conditioning ever breaks down at your gym).

Is it safe to exercise in hot weather?

Because your body is working so hard when it’s hot, it’s likely that your performance will be affected. So even though it might benefit your long-term fitness, don’t expect to reach a PB or even run at the same speed or lift at the same weight as normal.

Plus, working out during an extreme heatwave might not be a good idea if it’s something you’ve never done before or you aren’t used to exercising regularly. “Anyone who is not used to working out in the heat should take precautions including acclimatising gradually with shorter, less intense workouts,” Margo advises, adding that it’s important for your safety to stay more hydrated than normal when exercising in hot weather.

How to adapt your workout routine during hot weather

It’s not a good idea to attempt a particularly challenging workout when the weather is hot. In fact, it’s best to reduce the intensity of your workouts or break it into chunks to give yourself extra breaks, as well as reducing the overall time you work out for. 

You’ll see the most benefits from working out in the heat if you’re able to gradually acclimatise your body to higher temperatures, so it’s best to practice exercising when the temperatures are in the low 20s, before throwing yourself into a HIIT class on the hottest day of the year. Although this might be difficult to plan with the UK’s notoriously unpredictable weather.

Plus there are a few things you need to remember about exercising during a heatwave to keep you safe: “Hydrate frequently and if you’re exercising in the sun, wear sun cream,” Margo advises. “Avoid working out at the hottest times of the day. Instead, aim for morning or evening workouts.”

“Know your limits andlisten to your body – if you feel exhausted, sick, or dizzy take a break or cut your workout short,” she adds.

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Images: Getty

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