Exercising in the blistering heat can be a real drag. And when you’re trying to combat the sun, the last thing you want to do is soak yourself in warm water. But The New York Times reports that a hot bath might result in a more effective hot weather workout. Might sound crazy, but it’s true.
Scientists conducted a study testing the effects of precooling compared to heat acclimation during hot weather exercise.
Precooling is the process of lowering body temperature via icy drinks and treating the skin with ice packs in order to enhance performance during a hot weather workout. Heat acclimation works in the opposite way, exposing the athlete to high temperatures for days at a time so that the athlete adapts to working out in hot weather.
To see which method works better, scientists at England’s Environmental Extremes Laboratory at the University of Brighton invited nine recreational runners, who were neither heat acclimated nor treated with precooling, to complete a simulated 5 kilometer race at top speed on a treadmill in a 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) room.
The runners were invited back on a different day to repeat the race, but this time they precooled the runners’ skin by placing one arm in a cold water bath. The runners also wore cooling vests and underwear fitted with ice packs for 20 minutes before the race.
The scientists later tested the runners after heat acclimation. Scientists increased the temperature in the room to 99 degrees F (37 degrees C) and had the runners pedal on exercise bikes in the extreme heat for 90 minutes a day for four days in a row.
After the four days were up, the runners then ran the same simulated 5K treadmill race.
During the runners’ last visit to the lab, still heat acclimated, they were then precooled in the same way as before. The scientists wanted to see if a combination of both treatments doubly benefitted the runners’ performance.
After the fourth visit, the scientists compared the runners’ times from one visit to the next. The first visit, during which the runners were not prepared for their hot temperature workout, resulted in the lowest race times, as the scientists expected.
Precooling resulted in 4 percent time increase and the four days of heat acclimating resulted in a 6.5 percent time increase compared to their first run. The scientists also found that the times made with combination of precooling and heat acclimation was barely any different than those obtained after heat acclimation alone.
The scientists concluded that slowly adapting to the heat will result in a better work out performance than temporarily cooling the body down. Sorry, hot weather haters!
Although heat acclimation requires more time and preparation before a work out, once you’re acclimated, you’re good to go. Start off slow in the summer heat, and increase your effort each day. Or, after your 30-minute run, sit in a hot bath (heated to at least 104 degrees F), for about 30 minutes. This will help your body better adapt to the heat.
Alternatively, precooling can work great for a sudden temperature hike. When a heatwave hits, precool for 20 minutes before exercising.
So heat acclimation might not be your idea of “summer fun,” but a hot bath pre-workout can really do wonders for your summer workout routine.