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THE SCIENCE BEHIND THERMO-REGULATION & HEAT ADAPTATION- with coach heidi sowerby
With summer races on the near horizon, its time to think heat training. It is not hard to picture athletes baking in the late morning heat at Noosa tri, melting in Malaysia or sweltering through the Energy Lab in Kona. Yes, it is inevitable that the temperature will rise and there will be an impact on how well you can perform.
How many triathletes throw up their hands in exasperation declaring they are no good in the heat?!
Whilst there will always be challenges performing in hot environments, fortunately with knowledge there is power. Power to take some steps to get better at getting hot. Power to get across Noosa finish line in one piece!
Time to get your nerd on! Thanks to scientists who study thermoregulation (the body’s temperature control), there is good evidence on how prepare and perform in hot environments. Nerdy thermoregulation discussions could include terms such as acclimation, acclimatization, specifics of hormonal responses and explanations of heat transfer via convection, conduction and radiation.
But science aside, the practical basics for us athletes are to understand the why and how of heat training.
Why do heat training? Essentially, heat training, when appropriately added to your training program, will help you perform better in hot environments. Some of the potential physiological benefits of heat training are:
- there is an increase in plasma volume, i.e more circulating blood – yes!
- a reduction in heart rate for a given workload (pace in running, power on the bike) – a good thing!
- sweating onset is earlier and sweat contains a reduced percentage of electrolytes – better cooling efficiency right there!
- Lower skin and core body temperature – hello greater room to heat up!
Like any training strategy, you could also consider the potential psychological benefits of heat training. With training is totally possible to change your mental approach to performing in the heat. With all those benefits who wouldn’t want to transform into someone who loves the heat!
But, before you head out for a run in the midday sun, upsides and downsides! Heat illness is a very real possibility with any heat training so exposure must be controlled and progressed. Know the warning signs of heat illness and seek medical advice should you have any concerns before starting any heat training.
Most athletes will heed to the warnings of heat illness way before they take themselves into the danger zone, but, as with anything, there are always outliers. Potential A type personality looking for maximum gain in the shortest timeframe possible? Don’t be that athlete!
How to heat train? Basically you can acclimatise (train in a hot environment) or acclimate(create conditions that expose you to heat). In essence, the important part is that you want to get hot. The stimulus for adaptation is the rise in core body temperature.
Now you don’t need to have access to a fancy heat chamber or spend weeks in Asia to achieve effective heat training benefits. There are lots of options. Heat is heat (when it comes to raising your core temperature). Options include:
- Wearing extra layers of clothing whilst training
- training indoors without a fan to cool you
- create your own heat chamber in a small room with heaters
- training in the heat of the day rather than the cool hours of early morning or evening
- hot baths, saunas or steam rooms as a workout or post workout.
The research suggests most benefits can be gained in 10 -14 consecutive days of heat training. Options are to introduce it up to 6 weeks out from race day (this will require some maintenance sessions in the intervening weeks) or schedule it in the final weeks before race day.
Keen to start sweating up a storm? Chat with your coach!
Like any new training stimulus, heat training needs to be considered as an extra stress in your training program. It requires planning. Extra attention to recovery is needed. Dosing the right amount of heat exposure is needed. Scheduling of key training sessions alongside heat training requires thought.
Now is the time to think about getting hot! Invest in thermoregulation science before your race and your brain and body with thank you on race day.
Here’s to a sweltering summer of racing ahead!
And to scoring that last age group wave start at Noosa Tri!
CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT COACH HEIDI SOWERBY
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