Working out in the summer heat can be a miserable, sweat-soaked endeavor. As much as you don’t want to slack off, let’s be real—when it’s a bazillion degrees with 8,000% humidity, just lying on your couch in your air-conditioned living room starts to look reeeeeally tempting. But with the proper preparation, you can keep your workout going strong throughout the dog days of summer. Here’s how to weatherproof your workout.
1. Get the Timing Right
Blazing sun isn’t going to do you any favors, so if you are going to exercise outside (or if you don’t have air-conditioning), schedule your workout for early morning or late evening. “It’s ideal to work out before or after the heat index rises,” says Elizabeth Kovar, an ACE Master Trainer and mind-body movement specialist. “If your schedule doesn’t allow you to work out during those hours, play it safe by working out indoors.”
2. Stay Hydrated
Okay, so I royally screwed this one up a few weeks ago. On the first day of a nasty heat wave, I went for an early-morning run while it was still “only” 86 degrees out. Minor tactical error: I only drank half a glass of water when I woke up. I spent the rest of the day on the couch nursing a splitting headache, achy muscles, and wicked nausea. Oops. “Guidelines recommend consuming 17–20 ounces of water two hours before exercise, 7–10 ounces of fluid every ten minutes during exercise, and 16–24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost after exercise,” says Jessica Matthews, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. If you’re working out for an hour or more, you may also want to replace electrolytes with Results and Recovery Formula or coconut water.
3. Eat to Beat the Heat
Excuse all the rhyming, but it really is important to eat properly before a summer workout, since the wrong foods can boost your body temperature. “Avoid spicy foods, which stimulate heat production,” Kovar says. “Also, high-protein foods and anything greasy will be harder to digest, thus enhancing internal heat production.” Stick with easy-to-digest foods like fruit, eggs, or yogurt instead.
4. Dress the Part
This one’s really easy. “Lightweight, loose-fitting, minimal clothing can provide a greater skin surface area for heat dissipation,” Matthews says. Black may be slimming, but wear light colors to reflect the heat from the sun, and choose moisture-wicking fabrics to stay cool and dry.
5. Scale Back
On crazy-hot days, you may need to change your “go hard or go home” philosophy to “go easy or go inside.” If you’re acclimated to hot weather, then you may be able to tolerate a tough workout in extreme heat. But if you live in an area where three-digit temps make headlines, scale back when a heat wave hits. “Anything lower intensity or steady state is probably more achievable mentally or physically,” Kovar says. If you’re planning on doing high-intensity interval training, she adds, “Try to find a shaded area or take the training indoors.”
6. Heed the Warning Signs
Heat exhaustion isn’t a push-through-the-pain situation. Unchecked, it can lead to coma or death—so if you start to feel crampy, dizzy, or nauseous, stop immediately and start doing damage control. “Drink plenty of water and remove any unnecessary clothing,” Matthews says. “You can also mist your skin with water to bring your body temperature down.” If your skin is hot but not sweaty, or your pulse feels fast and weak, those are signs of heatstroke. “Call 911 and get cool any way that you can until help arrives,” Matthews says. Anytime the heat index is over 90 degrees, you’re at risk for heat exhaustion; over 105 degrees, it’s almost a given.2 So play it safe—if you know you can’t handle the heat, head indoors.