One scorching summer day leading up to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Phoenix-based triathlete Allysa Seely had a hard, fast interval running workout on the schedule. She waited until the evening, when she hoped it’d be cooler. But at 8:30 p.m., the thermometer still read 113 degrees.
Under the supervision of her coach, she hit the track anyway—with a few necessary adjustments. Mainly coolers. Lots of coolers.
“There was a cooler of ice for towels, a cooler with ice for water bottles, and a cooler with ice just to put down my shirt to try to stay cool,” Seely tells SELF. She also added in some extra recovery time between her intervals for good measure to keep her body from becoming overstressed.
The tactics worked. Seely hit the paces she’d planned in her workout, without developing any warning signs of heat illness (more on those in a bit). And she went on to win gold in Rio—a feat she repeated last summer in Tokyo, where it was also hot and humid.
For Seely, smart training in heat has paid off in all her races, not just the hot ones. In fact, research now suggests you can reap similar benefits from heat training as you can from working out in higher altitudes, which has long been a popular practice among endurance athletes.
“You get more bang for your buck training in a hotter temperature than you do in a cooler temperature,” she says.
But there’s a caveat: “You have to be able to then cool down and recover and adapt to that training,” Seely says. And it’s not for everyone, either: If you’re older than 60, take medications that affect your heat tolerance, or have a chronic health condition, you probably want to be more cautious and even get your doctor’s okay before exercising outdoors in the heat of summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Plus no matter who you are, if you don’t train smartly in the heat, not only can it be very uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous.
Whether you’re aiming for a podium at a major competition or just trying to get through a few summer miles with less suffering, you can learn from Seely and other athletes who regularly face tough conditions. Here’s their advice for making your hot-weather workouts feel less terrible.
1. Allow yourself ample time to adjust to the heat—and take it slow in the meantime.
Hot workouts are not something you want to dive into, especially if your body isn’t used to the heat. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that the first really hot day of the year is when your workout feels most difficult.
That’s because your body needs time to acclimate to the heat, Liza Howard, MS, an ultrarunner, certified running coach, and teacher for NOLS Wilderness Medicine, tells SELF. Usually that takes between 10 to 14 days, according to the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, an organization that specializes in education and research on heat and hydration.