How does temperature affect training?

How does temperature affect exercise/training?

We have all trained in gyms that are too warm or freezing cold, but what difference does it actually make?
Do we train any better in the warmth or cold, or do we need something in the middle, do people react differently depending on what they are used to?

Well most gyms have got some form of temperature control going on, however some do not and some of us like to train outside where temperatures can be pretty much anything, especially here in the UK. This article will look at the pros and cons of training in the cold and the heat.

Let us start with training in the cold (anything below 12 °C).

Time for that cold weather!

Fat Burning – Training in the cold is great for those wanting to shed a few kg, the main reasoning behind this is that the body needs to remain warm and does this by expending calories that would not have been burnt during normal temperature training.

Hydration – Training in the cold does not hydrate us as such but it does have benefits over training in the warmth as less sweat is produced leading to less chance of dehydration. Still we would recommend keeping fluid levels topped up accordingly as it is possible to sweat the same amount during cold weather when training hard.

Humidity – Training in the cold commonly goes hand in hand with a low humidity, this helps us take in more oxygen with each breath and will certainly help those taking part in endurance type activities.

Oxygen usage – In cold conditions are bodies begin using oxygen with greater efficiency, this has long lasting benefits for events such as marathon running and endurance. Training (4 weeks +) in temperatures of 5 °C and below can cause you to run 29% faster than if you ran at normal temperatures.

Immune Function – Regular training in the cold weather can help our immune strengthen by up to 30%. Which is great seeing as the cold weather comes round at the same time as flu season.

Injury risk – Are muscles tense when they come into contact with cold environments, because of this it is not a brilliant idea to try to perform some sudden high impact type movements. Let’s think of our muscle as some play-do, when play-doh is cold it goes hard and breaks easily when stretched, however when it is warmed up it can stretch further before breaking, this is basic terms is what our muscles are like in the cold, to counter this make sure you do a GOOD thorough progressive warm-up.

Hypothermia – Hypothermia occurs when our core temperature drops below 35.0 °C, if this occurs normal metabolism and organ function begin to fail. Hypothermia will start as shivering leading to mental confusion, blood vessels start to constrict and the heart beat increases. This is however unlikely to occur unless you decide to train in inappropriate clothing or in very low sub-zero temperatures. If you are running/cycling etc. make sure you know you can back to where you started, for those who live in more rural areas always plan your training appropriately, you don’t want to get caught out.

Conclusion and tips for training in the cold:
1. Wear appropriate clothing.
2. Keep hydrated even if you feel like you are not losing as much fluid as you would normally.
3. Make sure you plan training sessions so that you’re not left stranded in the cold for long periods.
4. Try and get a training buddy with you as they can help if you become injured etc. and you are far from help.
5. Try some glucose type energy boosters before training due to extra energy lost during thermoregulation.
6. If you start feeling ill cease training and seek help if necessary.

Let us take a look at training in the heat (anything above 30 °C)

Two Basketball Player
Get Sweating

Muscle Warmth – Training in the heat is commonly avoided by most, some research suggests that it is harder for us to train when it is warm, but they can’t deny the fact that our muscles are more readily prepared for movement when it is warm.

Blood Flow – When it is warm our blood vessels are already dilated, this helps us get ready for exercise faster and is of benefit especially of you are not doing any prolonged endurance activity. Those lifting weights with rest periods between sets will gain benefit for the increase in temperature to help keep muscles supple and ready for lifting.

Endurance adaptations – There is research that does state that training in the heat can in fact improve endurance fitness more so than altitude training. Many theories behind this such as how the heart must work harder to pump blood around the body as well maintain its core temperate, also as heat increases it is possible humidity increases, which will mimic altitude training making it harder to get the oxygen needed to train.

Sweating – It is nearly inevitable that as the heat increases so does your sweat, now this is a problem especially if you fail to adequately replenish your fluids. As we sweat we also lose salts that are of utmost importance to our muscles during exercise. It would be recommended to get yourself some type of electrolyte replacing drink to help replenish what is lost during the heated exercise.

Hyperthermia – The opposite of hypothermia, when our heat regulating systems becomes overwhelmed we get what is known as heat stroke which is the most common cause of hyperthermia. Failing to realise heat stroke can be fatal so it is recommended that you train with a partner when training in very high heats.
Humidity – Humidity may well be looked at as a positive aspect as it can cause adaptations that may lead to beneficial physiological effects. However in general humidity is not the greatest thing in the world for training, humidity is the amount of water vapour in the air and people are usually fine with humidity less than 30%. However many struggle to breath correctly in high humidity which as you can imagine is not the greatest when trying to any form of exercise, a lung filled with very humid air will contain less oxygen then a lung filled with low humid air, therefore making it harder for us to train.

Conclusion and tips for training in the heat:
1. Dress correctly, the idea that wearing a bin bag in the heat will make you lose fat faster is ridiculous and you will only lose mass amount of fluid weight which could lead to heat stroke and/or death.
2. Be careful of humid weather especially if you have asthma or other breathing problems.
3. Train with a partner especially if it’s very hot, heat stroke can hit without warning and can lead to unconsciousness, having a partner will certainly make your training safer.
4. Keep fluid level topped up and don’t forget electrolytes.
5. If you start feeling ill, make sure you rest and get help if you start deteriorating.

By. Chris Collins