Is Running In The Heat A Better Workout?
Most runners have a running temperature sweet spot. What I mean is, there is a certain temperature that they really love to run in. You know, like if you could always run at an ideal temperature, it would be this!
My ideal running temperature is between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Why? Because in these temperatures I can wear Capri leggings, a tank top and a loose long sleeve shirt for early in the run. If it is a bit windy, I might wear a very light headband to cover my ears. In this sweet spot, I don’t need gloves or any type of jacket unless it is raining. Then I might throw on a light rain running jacket.
I do well running in considerably colder temperatures. Seeing as I am a good Wisconsin girl through and through, I run in pretty cold temps. Although I might hit up my treadmill if it dips below -20. However, I don’t think I run great in cold temperatures.
Like many runners, I also feel like I struggle in very hot temperatures. Once it starts to creep above 60, I am starting to get warm and strip off layers. Anything over 70 and I am downright uncomfortable. My friends in southern states think I am ridiculous when I say this out loud, but it is my reality.
Is It Better To Run In Heat or Cold?
Runners often ask the question if it is best to run in hot weather or cold weather. There are many mixed thoughts on that topic. In some respects, that is a very personal response. What I mean is that there is no right answer!
First, it does depend on the individual. I have running friends who swear their performance is considerably better in the cold and others that insist that, for them, it is the complete opposite.
Benefits Of Running In Hot Weather
The first benefit of training in the heat is typically seen first hand by people who are training for fall marathons. There is an expression in the running community, “Summer miles bring fall smiles!” Why? Because all of those long runs you do in the hot summer months will help you when it cools down in the fall months.
Summer training for fall races also comes in handy if you find yourself suffering through an abnormally hot fall day. Although you may have hoped for nice cool running weather, those hot weather miles done in July and August will help you hammer along!
Running in heat can actually increase your blood plasma volume. This results in better cardiovascular fitness. Research points to heat training as being more effective in raising your V02 max than elevation training which is great news for us flatlanders! We can’t all live and train in the mountains but most of us have access to hot weather.
Running in hot weather also helps to build your thermotolerance. That is a fancy way to say that you get acclimated to the hot weather and your body suddenly is better equip and able to handle it. This is best done by slowly getting yourself used to the heat rather than shocking your body all at once.
Do You Burn More Calories When Running in Heat?
Often I am asked if a runner will burn more calories running in the heat. The answer is maybe, but the difference is negligible. Since you are working harder to achieve the same pace you hit on a cooler day, your burn will be slightly higher.
The slight benefit is not worth intentionally torturing yourself with miles in the middle of the day.
Is It Bad To Run In The Heat?
Running in hot temps does not come without certain risks. I ran a Ragnar from Madison to Chicago with a group of friends a few years back. The “feels like” temp jumped up into triple digits, hovering around 104 for most of the afternoon on day one. If you aren’t familiar with Ragnar, you and a team of 11 of your closest friends all jump in a couple of vans and take turns running relay-style for around 200 miles.
On day one, my first leg run in those hot temps left me completely sapped of my energy. Not one to drink a lot while running, I did not hydrate properly while running or after. Before I knew it I had a fever, coupled with vomiting and diarrhea. And I had two more legs to run! Luckily my second leg was under cover of night and without the sun’s harsh rays, I could struggle through the 5 miles ahead of me.
My third leg happened around noon on day two. Unable to eat and keep much down for fluids, I survived by stuffing ice down my sports bra. Thank God for the support of my teammates. I likely should have stepped off the relay team but you know how it goes… we runners are stubborn.
For weeks after that Ragnar Weekend, I struggled with my running. Eventually, I did get my groove back.
If you are planning to run in the heat there are tips you can use.
Tips For Running In The Heat
- Stay hydrated!
- Take in electrolytes.
- Stick to the shade if you can.
- Run before dawn or after dark, especially if you have to run long.
- Avoid running at the hottest parts of the day.
- Wear light-colored and breathable clothing.
- If you start to get nauseous, dizzy or lightheaded, walk or stop and get out of the sun.
Does Running In Heat Make You Faster?
Well, kind of. Running in heat raises your level of perceived effort. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you are running in hot weather it all feels harder for most of us. When you find yourself running in cooler temps, that perceived effort goes down a notch. When your perceived effort drops you often do end up going faster.
Many runners also note that when cold weather running, they can hold a challenging effort for a longer period of time. That becomes relevant when you go from hot to cool temps. Likely you will find yourself enjoying the results!
Is it Better To Run In Heat Or Humidity?
High humidity will have you feeling like you are working harder, even when the temperature is not extremely high. Humidity can make air temp feel terribly uncomfortable very quickly. Honestly, humidity can sap you of your superpower running strength faster than almost any other external factor.
Although some people handle heat and humidity better than others, most individuals feel the impact rather quickly.
The long and short of it is that running in the heat will add some challenges to your workout regiment. Sooner or later most of us will have to run in the heat and if we do it enough, our body will eventually adapt. Whether you are trying to intentionally adapt so you can race in hot weather, or you are just slogging through summer miles awaiting more pleasant temps, there are definite benefits to be found.
Just remember to always be smart, take care of yourself and stay safe if you do choose to run on hot or humid days. Your body is counting on you to make good choices so you can run again tomorrow!