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Why you can’t work out in the heat as well as your Bikram-obsessed BFF


Could there be a physiological reason that some fitness buffs just can't take working out in the heat? We put our expert in the hot seat.
Boston Marathon 2012
At this year's Boston Marathon, the temperature was over 90 degrees. (Photo: Elliot Okawaka)

 

Since hot workouts have become more and more popular, we’ve noticed a phenomenon: Some Hot Figure 4 devotees point and tuck perfectly as sweat rolls gracefully down their smiling faces, while some of us wave the sweat-drenched towel of surrender on what’s usually a light 5K run as soon as the heat sets in.

But tomorrow, the temperature is set to break 90, and we are so not skipping all the outdoor fitness and yoga classes throughout the city this summer.

So we asked Canyon Ranch exercise physiologist Jeffrey Dolgan (based in Miami, where they know heat!) for his expert take on why some fitness buffs can’t take the heat, and what to do if you’re one of them. Here’s what he had to say:

WHAT COULD BE SLOWING YOU DOWN?

1. Your body fat—and height—could be making you melt during a workout. There are several anatomical and physiological differences in people that allow some to deal with heat better than others,” says Dolgan. The first is body surface area. The more you have, the better you’ll be able to dissipate heat through your skin. Evolution takes this into account. “Alaskan Eskimos are generally vertically-challenged and wide-framed (to conserve heat), whereas Egyptians are tall and lanky (to help dissipate heat),” he explains. So, being short will hurt you here, as will having a higher body fat percentage, or too much “insulation.”

water
Drink water...lots of it!

2. Gender (unfairly) matters. Men have more numerous and larger pores, so they’re able to sweat more, making it easier to handle heat (ugh!).

3. Consider your cardio capability. “A person with a fitter respiratory system can breath more effectively and has a more responsive perspiratory system, making it easier to remove heat from the body,” says Dolgan.

4. Dehydration. The body’s ability to cool down is drastically impacted by dehydration, so keep your coconut water close. Dolgan also suggests placing a frozen towel on the back of your neck to bring your core temperature down, if you’re heat-challenged.

5. Get fit at normal temperatures first, then hit the heat. “Going from not exercising to trying to run in 98-degree weather with high humidity is like living at sea-level and then expecting to be able to breathe comfortably at the top of Mt. Everest,” says Dolgan. 

CAN YOU TRAIN FOR THE HEAT?

You might be able train your body for workouts in higher temps by scaling back on what you know you can do in more moderate ones. (You may have to train your pride a bit, too.)

And every Bikram instructor will tell you the same thing: The more you work out in the heat, the more acclimated your body will become. If you can tough it out for a bit, you’ll breathe easier soon enough. —Lisa Elaine Held

What do you do to deal with the heat? Tell us, in the Comments, below!

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