Even the toughest runners can find summer running challenging, with temperatures climbing into the 90s — and, for much of the country, added humidity on top of that. It doesn’t take long to realize that what works in the winter doesn’t work in the summer — and you need to adopt some basic hot weather running strategies, such as hydrating more, running before the heat of the day sets in, wearing the right clothing and paying attention to signs of heat exhaustion.
Runners quickly learn that their bodies need time to acclimatize to the heat. What feels brutal on the first hot day in May doesn’t seem quite as bad come June. The more you exercise in the heat, the better your body is able to handle it. With the popularity of hot yoga, we started to wonder if exposure to the heat in yoga class could help runners acclimatize to running in the heat.
READ MORE > THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RUNNING IN HEAT & HUMIDITY
Hot yoga is performed in a room with the temperature set between 100–105°F. It can be anything from Bikram to heated vinyasa flow, and students are often left drenched in sweat by the end of class. So, can sweating it out a few times a week in a yoga studio year long make you a better runner when summer comes?
Casey Mace, an assistant professor of public health at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, has studied the effects of yoga — and, in particular, hot yoga. Though hot yoga is gaining in popularity, there is still not a lot of solid research about its benefits, she says. Studies that examine it tend to have small sample sizes. “There is some evidence that athletes can be acclimatized to heat in other ways, so making the jump that hot yoga could help is not unreasonable,” Mace says.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION
A recent consensus statement on training and competing in the heat made several recommendations for athletes competing in warm-weather climates. One of the key recommendations was engaging in heat acclimatization sessions for at least 60 minutes a day for 1–2 weeks before a competition. That means running — or doing some sort of exercise — in the same climate you will be competing in.
This recommendation makes sense because your body needs to get used to sweating a lot more. In fact, spending time sweating in a hot yoga studio sounds similar to the sauna training that’s long been popular among ultra-marathoners who compete at Badwater, the 135-mile trek through Death Valley. There is a page devoted to sauna training to prepare for Badwater, and plenty of blogs where runners talk about how they use the sauna to get ready for the extreme heat the race throws at runners. While this is anecdotal, not research-backed, it seems the running community is giving it a try until it hears otherwise.
NO MATTER WHAT, HYDRATE
As Mace has found in her research, hot yoga is not a cure-all for runners hoping to beat the summer heat by tapping into their zen side (and becoming better sweaters). But she acknowledges there could be something to the heat acclimatization benefit it may offer all athletes. “Could you imagine football players in Louisiana doing hot yoga to tolerate their playing conditions better? It is certainly an interesting idea,” she says.
If you try hot yoga, go slow and take breaks as needed. Make sure to drink water before, during and after class. Part of what you are trying to teach your body is how to be efficient with sweating — so give it what it needs.
You may just find that, compared to the heat of a yoga studio, summer heat isn’t quite so bad.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT YOGA SESSION