“Hot Bod” is an exploration of fitness culture and its adjacent oddities.
I know some people are into summer. I, for one, am astonished, but sure, I’m happy that you have your relentless heat and your sweat and your blistering sunshine, love that you love to even run around in it, I just wish I could be left out of it. Unfortunately, your world is my world. In the summer, I become a skittish homebody.
But this year, there were too many hot days to hunker inside for all of them. The antsiness set in. I began to feel a physical restlessness associated with deep winter: I needed to move outside, but I also needed the outside to be different. And I’m not fooled by this bout of fall weather; I know we’ll have a heat wave yet. So I set out to learn: How do you work out when it’s simply too sweltering to exist?
I first spoke to dancer and fitness impresario, Kristin Sudeikis, whom I really admire because she has no love for the summer heat. Still, she continues to move. She’s decamped some of her FORWARD __ space classes outside to various gardens in the Hamptons all season. “Some of our most packed classes were the hottest days,” she tells me. “The heat hasn’t deterred anyone.”
She keeps them happy and healthy during the stifling summer season by subtly softening the typically go-go-go aerobic mood of these workouts. “The pacing and cadence is more gradual,” Sudeikis says. The classes gear up slowly, hit a peak, and then luxuriate in a cooldown.
This arc represents the most resilient strategy for coping with the heat: Do not let it rush you. Melissa Kendter, a Tone & Sculpt trainer and dedicated runner who runs almost 900 miles a year, relishes training in the summer months, because she knows to take it slow. The necessarily more gradual pace is freeing from preconceptions of how hard you should be pushing yourself. “In the heat, you exercise by effort, not by pace,” says Kendter. It’s the season to be really careful and slow. Any signs of cramps from sweat loss and electrolyte imbalance, any dizziness or nausea, means you’re doing too much. To embrace the leisurely mood, Kendter advises her clients to control their breathing: “Settle into your exhale, keep it long and slow, so your heart rate stays down.” Then, Kendter cites a runner’s maxim that of course I’ve never heard before: “You know people say that ‘summer training brings fall personal records.’” Kendter credits summer’s brutality — and the limits the heat imposes — as strengthening the body in the long run. When it’s hot and your body needs to work so hard just to keep you regulated, and then you return to a more reasonable temperature, all that energy goes right into your running. And even this sun worshipper recommends sticking to a couple limits: “When it gets too hot and the equipment gets slippery, that draws the line you need the AC.”
We also shouldn’t forget that we, humans, are the only animals who have figured out clothing. We’ve also got fabric aids to keep us cool, protected, calm, collected. Sudeikis likes a classic dad cap in white, to reflect the sun. I have a summer child pal who has never played tennis in her life but has gotten into swishy tennis skirts for her outdoor toning classes lately. “It creates a breeze!” she says. “And it kinda makes every sip from the thermos taste like it might be a G&T.” The tennis skort is among the most trend-relevant suggestions I find. The others tend to follow the aesthetics of a family trip to a national park: visors and sun hats, thick SPF, moisture-wicking light-colored clothes, long sleeves to sop up the sweat and protect from harsh sunburns. It’s utilitarian, but baby, you can pull them off!
But it’s not just preparation for the workout that requires planning, says Denis Blondin, a professor who studies metabolic processes at the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec; it’s also the recovery. Feeling dizzy and light-headed are even more common after a workout in the heat, rather than during one, he says. That’s because the stress of heat is actually additive. If you overheat one day and never really recover from that (by lowering your core temperature, resting, and hydrating), you’ll start from a higher baseline the next day. “As this piles up, the risk of heat exhaustion gets higher and higher,” Dr. Blondin warns. It’s so validating to learn that our exhaustion really does build and build; it’s not just brattiness. “You can be proactive,” he says, and one of the best ways to do that is to get into a cold bath after your toils. Just a few minutes should help lower your core temperature significantly.
The aftercare process is just as important as the SPF-drenched preparation. Everyone, absolutely everyone who exercises in the heat, recommends cold, icy drinks. Water, classically, but also sports drinks with salt and electrolytes to replenish everything you sweat out. If you’re very intense, you can take your icy bev right into your chilly bath plunge.
Now, if you think nothing is worth a hot sweat or a cold bath, I agree. So does Danyele Wilson, a Tone & Sculpt trainer who specializes in power training and HIIT. “Personally, when it’s hot, I opt out,” she says. “I believe in training for maximum efficiency and maximum output, and there’s a real decrease in performance in the heat.” But if Wilson’s made a promise — like she’s preparing for an event, or she’s meeting a friend — she’ll go. She may be a heat wimp, but she’s no spoilsport. “I just have to be accepting of the conditions that I’m in,” she says. “It applies more as a life lesson too: conditions aren’t going to be perfect and you have to adapt the best you can and keep moving.” And she, of course, takes a cooler to the track and packs it with ice and chilly wet towels. “The towels freeze a little; it’s just like the spa.” Well, at least, it’s almost like the spa.
The freezing, fresh towel on a hot, dank day: It’s the extreme pleasure of extreme contrasts. When you do something so hard and frankly kinda bad, simply existing after feels good by comparison. It’s almost worth a try.