From workout tweaks to unusual ice methods (frozen undies, anyone?), try these fitness tips to speed up your running sessions this summer
The dog days of summer can be a tough time for running. The hotter it is, the harder it becomes to push yourself. We know it's better to run when it's cool outside (don't believe us? Read 'em and weep: What's the Best Temperature for a Run?), and during the summer, the faster and farther we run, the more our bodies heat up, leaving us wilting on humid days. "Warm summer months add an extra challenge to runs, making us feel lethargic before we even begin," says Nike Run Club coach Katie Bottini. But while the mercury may be rising, that doesn't mean you can't make the most of your running sweat sesh if you do it right. Heck, you can even use this time to build your speed for the months ahead.
Cooling techniques like pre-chilling your body—through methods as wacky as wearing frozen undies—can actually help you run harder and keep you cool longer during a sweltering workout, according to a new study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. But that's not the only way to beat the heat and build running speed this season. From workout tweaks to form drills and on-the-run chill-out methods, we've got seven science-tested and expert-approved ways to cool down and speed up. Yes, you're going to need to buy a few more ice trays. And maybe a Snoopy Sno Cone Machine. Who said running in the heat can't be fun?
Time to bust our your Snoopy Sno Cone Machine. Dropping your internal temp before a workout can help keep you cooler for longer and help you maintain a higher intensity, say researchers at the University of Brighton. In a study of 12 male runners, scientists set the thermostat to 90 degrees before a 30-minute treadmill run. To lower their internal temp, the men drank a 16- to 20-oz sweetened slushie 20 minutes before their workout. Not only did they report feeling cooler than when they didn't have a frosty pre-run drink, they also were able to run faster. But the results are short-lived; your body temp will rise rapidly once you get moving, making this a good choice for shorter runs.
Freezing underwear isn't just a slumber party prank—it actually might help you run faster on a hot day. Cooling your skin before you sweat is even more effective than lowering your body temp, University of Brighton researchers found. When they cooled subjects' skin 20 minutes before a run—with iced towels slung over their heads and necks, arms submerged in 48-degree water, ice vests around their chests, and ice-packed shorts swaddling their thighs—their skin temp climbed slowest during the workout, making it a good choice for workouts longer than 30 minutes, researchers say. And, as with drinking a slushie, they were able to run faster—as much as 31 seconds over the course of a 5K. And no, you don't actually have to freeze your underwear. Slinging a frozen towel around your neck will do the trick. (This sounds like one of the 5 Quirky Pre-Race Rituals Runners Swear By.)
Don't just get cool before you run. Stay cool mid-run with ice to-go. Focus on your body's "cooling points," where your blood vessels are closer to your skin, like your wrist and neck, says Nike Run Club coach Joe Holder. Fill a water bottle with ice before heading out the door, suggests Nike Run Club coach Blue Benadum, then pop the bottle onto the back of your neck and forehead between intervals to help cool you down for the next one. Or, while you're rooting around your freezer, fill a long sock with ice cubes, then tie the sock around your neck. "On really hot days, this is a game-changer," Benadum says. "The ice melts and cools your body."
When it's too hot outside, there's no shame in going indoors. "The treadmill can be an excellent place to develop speed," says Benadum. Focus on intervals, alternating fast paced running with easy jogs at recovery pace. Known as a fartlek, Swedish for "speed play," this type of workout teaches your body to be adaptable. All that button-pushing will keep you engaged on the "dreadmill," get your muscles twitching fast, and keep you cool when being outside practically makes you melt.
Hitting the weights is another great option. "Use the heat as an excuse to keep it indoors to do strength training and mobility drills," says Bottini. "Taking the time to strengthen all the muscles we don't use, and those that counter-balance our running muscles, will pay off just as much going out and logging more miles." Bottini suggests focusing on single leg drills, posterior strengthening, lateral work, core training, and shoulder mobility and strength. (Next time you're indoors try this Fat-Burning Tread Tabata Workout for the Bold and Fit.)
If soupy days feel like a slog, concentrate on your form. "The summer months are a great time to focus on the skills of running that are often overlooked," Benadum says. "Hot temps can make it difficult to effectively handle high intensity runs and long tempo runs." Instead, try a longer drill session. To enhance speed, Bottini suggests a series of high knees, high skips, suicide sprints, hill sprints, box jumps, speed squats and lunge jumps, along with weighted squats. And focus on your running form in short, brief intervals around 100 meters, Benadum says. Form and drill work will make you speedier year-round. "The more you work on how your body is moving, the more efficient it will make you on the road," Bottini says. "By incorporating drills, your body will begin to adapt to those movements, making it come more naturally when you're actually out there running."
If you've followed our advice and pre-cooled with a frozen towel and slushie, you know you've only got about 30 minutes before the effects wear off. So make the most of your time outside. "Make your runs about quality not quantity," Bottini suggests. "Shorter, faster runs, such as intervals on the road with proper rest periods can be an excellent option." That fartlek run we recommended for the treadmill? It will serve you well outdoors too, whether you're on the road, track, or trail. Play with bouts of fast and slow running—rather than a slow, steady effort—to maximize your workout and build your speed.
Be sure you've got access to enough water and shade, Bottini says, to stay safe and effective. Run during non-peak sun hours early or late in the day if you can. And if you live near a body of water, head toward it, Holder says. The extra breeze will help keep you cool.
Yes, even through you're already hot, you still need to warm-up. "Just because you are warm and your core temperature has increased does not mean you are properly activated to run," says Holder. "Even on the hottest of days, elite athletes still go through a warm–up. You still want to make sure your muscles are firing properly and ready to go."
But you can shorten your warm-up and optimize it instead, Holder says, with a quick jog, dynamic warm-up, and striders—short, fast bursts of speed about 100 meters long. This type of warm-up won't be too taxing on your heart but will activate the muscles you're about to use. "Dynamic stretches and drills help the muscles and tissues warm into the proper ranges of motion and explosive nature of speed work," Benadum says. "When shortening your warm-up for hot weather, shorten your jog, but not the dynamics stretches and drills."
Holder's perfect hot weather warm-up looks like this: 1,000 meter jog, 2x15 meters knee hugs, 2x15 meters hamstring scoops, 2x15 meters quad stretches, 2x15 meters side shuffles, 2x15 meters skipping, 2x15 meters high knee skipping, 2x15 meters cariocas, 2x15 meters high knees, 2x15 meters butt kicks, and 4x100 turnarounds—100 meter strides followed by a quick turn around and stride back.