If you are racing or riding in hot conditions or at high altitudes, you need to train for the extreme conditions. However, many of us live at sea level and might be strapped with busy schedules which makes altitude and heat training more challenging. Fear not, there are several things you can do to get ready.
ADD HEAT TRAINING WHERE POSSIBLE
There is a certain mental advantage to getting out and training in the heat and altitude. So your first step to prepare is to take advantage of any hot weather you get. This may seem logical, but since work hours keep us out of the midday heat, many athletes miss the really hot conditions that can help with adaptation. Consider taking time off to ride mid-day or do lunchtime workouts to augment your training for hot races.
Stacy Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist, suggests heat training is a great way to prepare for hot races and, perhaps surprisingly, heat can also help you at altitude, which is great if you can’t afford to take time away to train atop a mountain.
SAUNAS AND HOT TUBS
To add heat to your routine, you can pair your normal rides — perhaps during the heat of the day — with some post-ride exposure to a sauna or hot tub. Start at lower temperatures and shorter duration, building from perhaps 20 minutes up to 30–60 minutes post-ride. In a hot tub, the temperature should be around 104ºF/40ºC (again, ease into this) and aim to keep your hands, feet and chest in the tub. For a sauna, keep the temperature between 160–180ºF/71–82ºC, using the lower levels of the sauna to help ease yourself into the exposure.
Then, slowly rehydrate after the exposure over a few hours to ensure your kidneys are stimulated to produce more red blood cells and plasma blood volume. While this sounds easy and soothing, be warned: It is uncomfortable and elevates your heart rate, so use caution and gradually expose yourself, just like you would when easing into running or starting a strength-training routine.
Since there is a definite mental edge you can gain from being familiar with heat, you can pair training in the heat of the day with things like hot yoga. Doing hot yoga regularly for a few weeks or several days in a row could be helpful in making these adaptations, and most larger towns and cities have at least one studio teaching hot yoga. (Bonus: You get a yoga class in as well to help those mobility goals!)
Sims suggests limiting air-conditioning use during the day can help with your ability to cope with heat. (It’s still OK to use the A/C to cool down in time for bed to preserve sleep quality.) Overdressing may also help prepare you mentally to be overly hot and uncomfortable, so adding a winter cycling jacket or arm/leg warmers to your rides is a way to add some discomfort and extra heat to your rides.
AVOID SUNBURN AND DEHYDRATION
One risk of training during the hottest part of the day is sun exposure. It’s important to take precautions against getting sunburned, as, among other issues, this damage to the skin limits your ability to sweat. In addition to wearing sunscreen, try wearing long-sleeves or ‘arm-sleeves’ during rides — and use UV protecting fabrics to minimize your exposure to the sun.
We also don’t want to end up in a state of dehydration long term. While we can be slightly dehydrated during these heat-exposure sessions, take care that you have enough time to rehydrate over the course of the day and in between sessions. Being hydrated for key workouts and your races is critical for optimal cooling and performance.
If you can plan to arrive at your race or ride destination a few days early, you can do some higher intensity work in the heat there. This should also be beneficial to get some adaptations, even if you were not able to do specific preparation before. For race day, you can help yourself by being hydrated and by pre-cooling before the race by using cold, even slushy, drinks and ice towels, vests or panty-hose filled with ice around your neck (a pro-secret). Using cold drinks during your ride or event is also effective.
While the heat and altitude preparation can help, it’s even more important that you don’t forget the basics. Many people underestimate the importance of their daily nutrition, getting good regular meals and great sleep in the months ahead of your big event.