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Exercising In The Heat: Lessons Learned From Formula 1

This weekend saw Formula 1 drivers compete in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

This Grand Prix is thought to be one of the most physically challenging races of the season for drivers. Not because of the circuit, but because of the heat and humidity.

The drivers have to work in a cockpit environment that can exceed 50 degrees centigrade (or 122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Over the course of a 2 hour race, drivers can lose more than 4 pounds from sweating alone. In the past, this has resulted in heat stroke, fainting and numerous accidents behind the wheel.

Most drivers now spend time preparing themselves for these extreme conditions to make sure they can perform optimally. Some drivers travel to Asia several days before the event to acclimatise themselves, and others undertake special training within a facility where the temperature and humidity can be raised to replicate race-day conditions.

For Formula 1 drivers, training like this is a necessity. If they don’t do it they’ll be outperformed by another driver who has.

Heat training, however, isn’t only useful for Formula 1 drivers and elite athletes. As people who travel to hot countries, it’s important to understand how exercising in the heat affects the body, and most importantly, how to do it safely.

Note: You should seek medical attention before undertaking any type exercise in hot weather. I do not recommend self-management of your health care. Reliance on any information provided by or via Travel Strong is solely at your own risk.

How Exercising In The Heat Can Make You Fitter

exercising in the heat

Some people claim that heat training is the new altitude training.

Altitude training works because the thinner air at high altitudes stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells. More red blood cells means more oxygen can be supplied to the muscles, which in turn means that the athlete can work harder at lower altitudes.

Heat training, on the other hand, stimulates the body to produce more plasma. Increased blood plasma volume equals an increase in circulating volume of blood which results in:

  • less competition between cooling and fuelling exercising muscles
  • more fluids available for sweating, meaning better cooling capabilities
  • better performance

In two separate studies, researchers in New Zealand and at the University of Oregon found that heat training increased resting plasma volume by 4.5% and 6.5%, respectively. In practice, this amounts to significant improvements in athletic performance. In the Oregon study, cyclists were able to improve their performance by 7%, which is not to be sniffed at.

Heat training is particularly beneficial to Formula 1 drivers because it helps them improve their tolerance to exercising in the heat while increasing the volume of plasma in their blood.

In general, exercising in the heat can make you fitter, but it can also help you get used to doing activities in hot weather. This means you can maintain a safe exercise routine and enjoy any other outdoor activities you might participate in. Additionally, it will help prepare you for events where the weather is unpredictable, such as a half-marathon or Tough Mudder.

Staying Safe

As with most things, it is crucial that you give your body time to adapt. Start with shorter sessions, and work your way towards exercising in the heat for longer as time goes by.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting you go outside into sweltering heat and try to run a marathon. This isn’t a ‘no pain, no gain’ situation.

Listen to you body, and use these tips to stay safe:

  • Obviously, you sweat more as the heat and humidity increases, so you’ve got to make sure you’re replacing fluids as you run, bike, or do other workouts in such extreme weather. Consume 16 to 24 ounces of water a couple of hours before exercising in hot temperatures. 
  • Following that, take in another six to eight ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise.
  • If you intend to do anything more than moderate activity for an hour,you should consume sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes.
  • If the humidity is too high, you’re ability to sweat is inhibited (as it won’t evaporate), and you will quickly overheat. On those days, exercise indoors or don’t exercise at all.

The Bottom Line

Formula 1 drivers and elite athletes are able to participate in heat training in controlled environments that are designed to be as safe as possible. Mark Webber even used a pill that acted like a thermometer, allowing his trainer to monitor his core temperature and end the session if it went too high.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to these facilities (unless you’re a F1 driver reading this, in which case I want free tickets). So it’s important to understand that although heat training may give you a competitive edge, your first concern should always be safety.

Stay motivated, exercise when you can, but don’t force yourself to exercise in conditions that might put you at risk.

What’s your experience of exercising on the road? Does the heat make it difficult to stick to your routine? Or do you train come Hell or high water? Let me know in the comments!

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