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How To Keep Cool When You Workout This Summer

(Cool-er, anyway)

by Molly Hurford

It's that time of year: The weather is finally warming up and for a few days, it feels fantastic. But then, reality sets in: You're sweaty, overheated, and feeling like you might melt into a sunburned puddle after another mid-afternoon run leaves you panting at your doorstep.

It's not time to quit training altogether, it's just time to get smarter about what you're doing. ROAR author and exercise physiologist Stacy T. Sims, PhD, has spent most of her career focusing on two primary fields of study: female exercise physiology and heat adaptation. So when it comes to women running in summer, there's no one on the planet who knows more about this topic than her. (Not to mention, she's been an elite level triathlete racing in some of the hottest conditions on earth herself!) Check out her tips, below.

Women are more heat sensitive than men

If you're out for a run with your male partner and he isn't sweating as much as you or doesn't find the heat stifling, don't stress that you're broken, or a bad runner. Women are more sensitive to the effects of heat, says Sims. We have a harder time dealing with dehydration, and a harder time bringing our heart rate to max. Because of that, we need to be more aware of how we're feeling and take better care of ourselves as temperatures rise.

… Oh, and your menstrual cycle matters too

Sims' research has shown that the high hormone phases of your cycle (the last two weeks of your cycle, with Day One being the day when your period starts) can actually make you less able to deal with the heat. So if you track your cycle, you may want to aim to do more of your high-intensity work and longer efforts during the first half of your cycle, and save the indoor (non-heated) yoga classes and lower-intensity workouts for the second half, when it's hot AF outside.

Train early or late

Unfortunately, that lunchtime run that felt great in spring will start feeling worse and worse as the summer heats up. It might be time to swap the mid-day run for an indoor gym session, or move your runs to early in the day before temperatures start rising, or shift to post-work, after the sun has started to set. Even the drop of a few degrees can improve your performance and how you feel overall.

Hydrate before you work out

We all know about the importance of being hydrated during a workout, but how often do you head out on your jog, ride, or to CrossFit with no memory of your last glass of water? Sip fluids throughout the day and start your runs pre-hydrated, so you're not feeling lightheaded from the heat and mild dehydration by mile two, says Sims.

And hydrate during

You don't need to chug bottle after bottle for a short 30-minute run, but once you're out for more than an hour, you're going to want to be drinking regularly (and if you're a salty-sweaty person, adding electrolytes or at least a pinch of sea salt to your bottle will be helpful). Because sweating actually is our body's way of keeping us cool, we want to be hydrated (the water you're drinking doesn't come out of you in the form of sweat immediately, it replenishes the water that's pulled from blood plasma, to get science-nerd-y for a second). On the flip side, guzzling too much water can be unsafe as well, so don't think that more is going to be better.

Think cool, not icy… on your skin

It's tempting to finish a workout, or stop mid-workout, to cool off by holding ice against your face. But ice packs against your skin will actually contract blood vessels, and you want them to be open. Rather than using ice to cool off skin, submerge limbs in cool water or pour cool water on your cap or down your shirt. When it comes to drinking, though, icy water is totally fine. Just be aware that it might shock your system a bit and for some people, that can lead to a bit of gastric distress.

Check your SPF

Sunscreen is obviously super-important, and you're going to want to make sure you're wearing one that's sweat-proof. But you can also keep cool by wearing a cap that will shade your face (and can be soaked with cool water if needed). Check your athletic wear too: Some tank tops might have an SPF rating, but more open mesh fabrics will require you to apply sunscreen under them—unless you want a mesh-patterned sunburn. And it may seem counter-intuitive, but wearing white sunsleeves can actually help keep you cooler even though you're wearing more material.

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