5 Ways to Stay Safe During Sweltering Summer Sweat Sessions

Base image: Brett Weinstein

Down here in the South, our summer heat is not messing around. From June through August, average high temperatures in Atlanta top out in the mid to upper 80s (still, don’t call it “Hotlanta,” okay?) and that can bring a whole new level of challenge to your outdoor workouts. You could pack up your gear and head to air conditioned comfort, but outdoor exercise is great for you and the heat itself can actually have some benefits too. Higher temps can improve your flexibility — thus the popularity of hot yoga studios — and some studies have shown that hot-weather training may lead to even greater gains than high-altitude training for elite athletes. If you’re going to sweat it out this summer, be safe about it with these tips for scorching summer workouts…

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water a couple of hours before your workout starts then another six to eight ounces for every 15 minutes of exercise — whether you feel thirsty or not. When you’re done working out, grab another couple of glasses of water or sports drink to help you replenish electrolytes. Yes, that’s a lot of fluid, but think of how much you lose via sweat during a summer workout… that sweat angel didn’t make itself. Aim to keep your hydration at a good level throughout the day. (Hint: Check the color of your urine. It should be pale yellow. Anything darker can be a sign of dehydration.) It is possible, though rare, to overhydrate, leading to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia.

Dress Appropriately

Your sweat needs to evaporate off of your skin in order to effectively cool you, so don’t wear clothing that traps heat and sweat next to your skin. As comfy as cotton tees are, they don’t do a great job of pulling moisture away from your body. Wicking material and/or breathable fabrics will do wonders to make you feel cooler and are totally worth the extra few bucks. And no matter how gothy you are or how much you feel like sporting head-to-toe black makes you look like a badass ninja, summer is not the time for a dark wardrobe.

Throw on some light colors to reflect that heat. If you don’t believe it matters, put a black shirt and a white shirt in the sun for 10 minutes then feel the difference.

Timing Is Everything

It’s common sense, but it bears repeating: If it’s a Georgia scorcher, don’t head out at high noon and set up your workout mat in the direct sun. That’s just asking for trouble. Working out during the early mornings or evenings will help you avoid the hottest, most humid part of the day (10 a.m. until 3 p.m.). Also, shade is a good thing. Head to a leafy park for your workout or take a jog along a wooded trail.

Don’t Skimp on the SPF

Even if you find that glorious shady spot, you still need to apply sunscreen before every outdoor workout. You can end up with a wicked burn, even on a cloudy day (80 to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays get through those fluffy barriers), and you don’t need us to tell you how dangerous that can be. Make sure you’ve got an SPF of at least 15 — preferably higher — and that it’s waterproof (you’re planning to sweat, yeah?).

Listen to Your Body

Your heart works harder when it’s hot — roughly 10 beats per minute harder once the mercury hits 75 degrees — and can circulate two to four times as much blood on a hot day in an effort to keep you cool. That’s why pregnant women and those with high blood pressure should avoid the heat whenever possible. Your body does acclimatize to the heat and become more efficient at cooling, but that takes about two weeks. In the meantime, start with shorter, less intense workouts and work your way up. No matter how long you’ve been doing hot weather workouts, listen to your body and call it quits if you have any signs of heat exhaustion. What are those signs? We’re glad you asked. They include:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramping or weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cold, pale, clammy skin
  • Heavy sweating

If you have any of those symptoms, the CDC advises you to move to a cooler location, lie down and loosen your clothing, sip water, and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible. If you continue vomiting, seek medical attention right away. Heat stroke, the dangerous step beyond heat exhaustion, can be identified by a body temperature above 103 degrees, a rapid pulse, or hot, red skin. If you get to that point, consider it a medical emergency and call 911 immediately.