Acclimating to Heat and Humidity Part I

Heat Index

Below is the Heat Index Chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

Heat Index Chart 

At temperature and humidity combinations below 80 degrees and 40 percent, there are no concerns. Notice that at a temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity, the heat index remains at 88 and caution is needed. Keep the temperature at 88 and raise the relative humidity to 75 percent and you've got trouble. In this situation, the heat index soars to 103 and conditions become dangerous.

When the surrounding air contains high amounts of humidity, or water, the ability of the air to take on more liquid from your body is diminished or completely eliminated. Recall it is not the actual sweat that is cooling, it is the evaporative process.

Risk Factors for Heat Illness

Whether or not you will have problems racing in a hot and humid environment depends on many factors. Some of the environmental factors have already been discussed. Additional risk factors include:

  • Low level of fitness
  • Lack of heat acclimatization
  • Dehydration
  • Individual ability to tolerate heat
  • Glycogen depletion
  • Current viral or bacterial illnesses
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Non-porous clothing that doesn't allow sweat evaporation
  • Past history of heat illness
  • Drugs (including alcohol) and medications (prescription and non-prescription)

Preparing for a Hot Race

If you anticipate racing in hot or hot and humid conditions, there are things you can do before the event to increase your chances for success. While you cannot change the environment, you can change things about your preparation that can increase your chances for a successful race. Those preparation strategies will be covered in Part II.


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

References:

1. Armstrong, Lawrence E. PhD, Performing in Extreme Environments, Human Kinetics, 2000.
2. Heat, Humidity and Air Pollution: Preparation for Athens 2004 Conference, U.S. Olympic Training Center September 17-19, 2003.
3. McArdle, Katch and Katch, Exercise Physiology, Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance, Sixth Edition, Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2007.
4. National Weather Service, Heat: A Major Killer
5. Noakes, Tim, MD, Lore of Running, Fourth Edition, Human Kinetics 2003.

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