Being too warm seems a distant memory at this time of year – with ‘Blue Monday’, dark days and damp, cold weather, it is hard to envisage being too hot. Dull January seems to be an excellent time to think about ways to exercise in the warm.
Here in the UK we may be preoccupied with keeping warm, but in the southern hemisphere it is mid-summer. Those who have been following events at the Australian Tennis Open will know that the feasibility of exercise in extreme heat is very much on the agenda there.
The Australian Open is held in Melbourne, a city notorious for extremes of temperature and sudden changes in weather. The outside temperature can vary by fifteen or twenty degrees in a matter of hours, especially in summer which is when the tennis event takes place. The stadium does have a retractable roof, but unlike the one used at Wimbledon its main purpose is to shield from heat, not rain.
Last year’s Wimbledon tournament was held in unusually high temperatures for the UK, although there was no disruption to the event. This is partly because professional tennis players at this level live in an endless summer as they travel the world, and most are acclimatised to high temperatures. However this is not the case for ball boys, officials and the crowd, and there comes a point where the players will start to suffer. The ‘trigger temperature’ for this at Melbourne is kept secret, although it was reached at the 2014 event resulting in postponement of matches.
What are the effects of exercising in heat? On the positive side, muscles are kept warmer and so protected from injury, and with no demand to maintain body temperature more resources can be diverted to movement. However the body must be able to lose the heat generated by exercise, otherwise there will be problems. In extreme circumstances this leads to heat stroke and collapse, and is a medical emergency.
There have been many studies carried out to try to find out if exercising in heat is beneficial, or if it makes for a higher calorie burning rate. There is some evidence that the increased heart rate helps to raise the intensity of the workout. The extra sweating can provide additional ‘cleansing’, although the effect is fairly minimal. It is also suggested that a hot workout is healthier simply because many common disease-causing organisms cannot survive in the elevated temperature (which is why our bodies develop a fever when we are ill).
For those who would like to try a ‘hot workout’, here are some of the available options.
These gym-based exercises will be plenty for most of us, but the idea of exercising in the heat can be taken much further. Some international events are held purely to present a chance for athletes to pit themselves against extreme heat levels. If a normal hot workout is no longer challenging, how about one of these?
Perhaps it is best to start in that nice warm gym!
The main thing to keep in mind with all these hot exercises is hydration. You can put yourself in serious danger if you go too far. I'm a big fan of bikram yoga but it took some time to get used to.