Why We Must Maximize Our Fitness Results – Rain, Hail or Shine.
As dedicated bodybuilders we must possess an ability to adapt to all training environments and the many circumstances which may conspire to preclude the application of optimal training intensity. Whether we are feeling down, our energy levels are not where they should be, or unforeseen events have mentally sidetracked us, the gym is one place where we can still control a variety of outcomes. Thus, we have learned to give it our all whenever that gym door closes. When it is time to train, all excuses vanish in a puff of gym chalk upon the completion of that first rep.
Among the many circumstances we cannot control are the weather conditions.
From hot and humid to cold, windy and miserable, our bodies are forced to change with these changing conditions.
And while some may claim to be unfazed by varying temperatures, and push on with their training regardless, we are all, on some level, for better or worse, affected by the seasons.
From winter through to the spring, summer and autumn months we must be prepared to channel our enthusiasm, and apply sufficient mental and physical effort to all of our training sessions so as to consistently progress. So, how might the contrasting weather conditions affect our training performance and how might we maximize our workout success, regardless of the season? Keep reading.
Countering the cold
It is during the colder months that most of us find it hardest to summon the enthusiasm to train, yet it is at this time we should be training hardest. It is during winter that most missed workouts are likely to occur, with the colder conditions conspiring to keep us snuggled up with comfort food rather than braving the rain, wind and cold. With so-called winter weight gain resulting in additional pounds to be shed (due, in part, to the feel-good calorie-dense foods we are likely to indulge in and a greater propensity to ‘hibernate’ due to lower energy levels), we must make it a priority to train when our desire to do so is at its lowest. This takes discipline, as does limiting the warming, soothing wine, cheese and hot chocolate we use to endure the depressingly longer, colder days.
Through regular exercise we can however address many of our winter woes.
Working out keeps us warmer (directly through training and indirectly by raising our internal temperature and increasing blood flow throughout the day), keeps illness at bay by improving immunity, counters depression and, in those afflicted, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), reduces the toxins that may accumulate in greater numbers during the winter months (when sweating is less likely and deleterious foods are more frequently on the menu), and helps to banish unsightly body fat. By achieving all of the above we intensify our commitment to furthering our fitness success.
But we must first start, and take it one workout at a time.
To ensure we maintain our winter training regime we may: team up with a reliable training partner, revisit our training goals daily (to remind ourselves of our training commitment, thus inspiring greater efforts), establish a home gym (then, the most torrential of conditions cannot be considered an excuse for missing a workout), and eat wholesome, nutritious foods (which will give us more energy to train while boosting our mood).
While persistent, chronic stress and an associated outpouring of the powerful stress hormone cortisol is to be avoided at all costs, intermittent stress, in the form of intensive exercise, is known to be beneficial. In fact, regular exercise has been shown to expand the productive capacity of the amine-producing cells to inoculate against anxiety, depression and stress. Through the carefully orchestrated modulation of dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenalin (and other such chemicals) we learn to better manage stressful events and we become more resilient. Exercise also floods our brain with growth factors to keep existing neurons (brain cells) young and new neurons growing. This, too, strengthens our brain and expands our capacity to cope with the stresses of life.
Yet another way in which we may become better able to deal with stress is through exposure to colder temperatures, especially when such exposure is coupled with exhaustive exercise. In fact, scientists have suggested that people who regularly swim in colder than normal water develop an ability to become powerfully aroused when confronted with stressful events (adrenaline, rather than cortisol, is, under such circumstances, predominantly released) and to switch off this arousal just as fast. Such control minimizes chronic stress.
It is surmised that the cooler temperatures have made these people more emotionally stable when confronted with prolonged stress and that exercise, coupled with acute thermal demands, provides them with an enviable pattern of stress and recovery.
While it has been claimed that thermoregulation supported by the nervous system has laid the foundation for emotional arousal in mammals, it is further thought that people who develop a tolerance to colder temperatures may also improve their emotional stability. It has also been argued that by exercising our systems of thermoregulation (through periodic exposure to heat and cold) the body becomes more efficient at controlling its response to these conditions thereby promoting protective advantages (the more efficient raising and lowering or core temperature, for example). Indeed, by subjecting ourselves to a degree of thermal stress we may undergo a valuable toughening process. While caution is always to be advised when training in extreme temperatures, perhaps we should learn to embrace the natural conditions more often.
Feel the heat
Working out in warmer weather conditions can be both a blessing and a barrier to positive training outcomes. For most of us, warmer temperatures, to a certain point, increase training output. While exposure to the sun can increase our vitamin D stores, which enhance the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, which, in turn, increases our energy levels, the brighter days can also brighten our mood, giving us a greater incentive to hit the gym and more focus when we get there.
However, should temperatures reach uncomfortably higher levels and an accompanying rise in humidity be experienced, we may increasingly begin to feel lethargic. Our motivation levels may begin to decline and lying on the beach may appear a more tempting proposition to sweating it out in the training trenches. But before ditching the gym in favor of more relaxing environs, it is time to rethink hot weather training. While in training under progressively warmer conditions (environments ranging from 75-90 degrees) we must often push harder to overcome our depleted energy levels, there is merit to be found in doing so.
Exercising in the heat encourages our heart to beat faster (up to 10 additional beats per minute in 75-90 degree heat).
This may challenge the way the heart pumps blood to working muscles; over time, the body is forced to adapt to the additional heart rate increases, and fitness improvements may result. We are also forced to sweat more in warmer conditions. Sweating naturally detoxifies our body of alcohol, cholesterol, excessive sodium and other potentially harmful compounds (human perspiration also contains a naturally occurring antimicrobial peptide called dermcidin, which fights tuberculosis, germs and other dangerous pathogens).
However, existing fitness levels, hydration status, exercise intensity, and length of time spent training all must be considered before planning workouts in warmer climes. Though training in the 75-90 degree range may be productive and can certainly be tolerated by those past the beginner training stage, anything above 90 degrees may promote further heart rate increases, and associated dangers: cramps, excessive water loss, heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
To avoid dehydration and resulting weakness/dizziness, be sure to drink around half a liter of water an hour before training in hot temperatures and periodically sip water throughout each training session.
For those whose internal temperatures must remain on the lower side (such as pregnant women and people with high blood pressure), training in the early morning or late evening periods, lessening overall training intensity and resting more between sets will ensure a cooler training experience.
Embrace the conditions
All ‘seasoned’ bodybuilders have learned to embrace the range of temperatures in which they must train. Still, for many otherwise dedicated fitness enthusiasts, the environmental extremes can be cause for concern or a barrier to full participation. While training in certain conditions (extreme heat and humidity, for example) can pose specific risks, we must not let these potential downsides override our enthusiasm for regular exercise. Instead, we must explore ways to stay safe while training to full capacity. In reality, adjusting to and overcoming the many training conditions we are likely to encounter can, as outlined above, promote further fitness outcomes while strengthening our commitment to stay the course.
Coates, J. (2013) The Hour between Dog and Wolf: Risk-Taking, Gut Feelings and biology of Boom and Bust. Fourth Estate: London.
McDermott, N. Greatist. Are Hot Workouts Safe? Online – Retrieved on 22.11.14
News.com.au. 6 Reasons It’s Even More Important to Exercise in the Winter.
Online – retrieved on 22.11.14