Heat, cold, altitude: Sports under extreme conditions

MG 2265

We all know what it feels like after a hard workout: Your muscles burn. You can feel every part of your body. You’re sweating. Workouts can be tough and demanding. You are pushed to your limits. But even if you give it your all, your performance is not always the same. Why is that? Well, not only does your mental and physical health affect your performance, but environmental factors also play a crucial role in your training. So what exactly happens to our bodies in heat, cold and at altitude? Is it possible to adapt to these conditions? And what effect does it have on our performance? Here, you can find out more about training in the heat, cold and at altitude.

Heat

What happens to your body?

When we train at extremely high temperatures, heat is increasingly being produced, putting our bodies under stress. Generally there are two types of heat stress: heat stress, which can be compensated by our body through heat dissipation and non-compensable heat stress.

What does this mean for your exercise performance?

As long as the temperature remains within a reasonable range, our body can counteract an increase in body temperature by producing sweat. Through the evaporation of sweat, heat is then transferred to the environment. The regulation of increased heat production is also made possible through blood distribution. In this scenario, heat is transported by the blood to the outer surface of the skin, allowing it cool.

For non-compensible heat stress, it is no longer possible for the body to compensate for the increase in heat production, via necessary heat dissipation. This creates an increase in body temperature, which ultimately leads to the loss of our athletic performance. No matter how hard you try, you will simply not perform at your best under such conditions.

How does your body adjust?

The good news: When we train for a long period of time at high temperatures, the body has time to adapt to the conditions. The production of sweat allows our body temperature to drop, lowering our heart rate. It is these factors that positively impact our training performance.

Cold

What happens to your body?

Extremely low temperatures can also put our body under stress. The body regulates the constriction and dilation of blood vessels so that we lose as little heat as possible. To increase the production of heat, our body develops “muscle tremors”.

What does this mean for your exercise performance?

The drop in body temperature affects the functioning of our muscles and heart. As your body cools down, your performance levels decrease.

By the way: Certain physical factors may also affect individual performance in extreme cold conditions. The amount of body fat is one such example. If your body has more fat, it can provide you with more energy in colder conditions. Fat acts as an insulator and protects the body from hypothermia.

How does your body adjust?

The good news: The body is also able to adapt to the cold. However, in this scenario, the adaption is slower and less pronounced than the adaption to extreme heat.

Altitude

What happens to your body?

When training at high altitude, you will not find the same oxygen levels that you will find at sea level. As the altitude increases, the proportion of oxygen reduces as the air becomes less compressed, i.e. the air gets thinner.

What does this mean for your exercise performance?

Less oxygen available in the body will affect the red blood cells. When you absorb less oxygen, saturation of oxygen in our blood decreases. And since oxygen is a highly determining factor, especially for endurance performance, the result is a decrease in exercise performance when undertaken at high altitude.

How does your body adjust?

The good news: Adjustments are also possible here! What is known as erythropoiesos plays a key role. It refers to the increased formation of red blood cells, allowing the body to absorb more oxygen and transport it to various tissues. Increasing the duration of performance at high altitude will increase your endurance capacity.

If you are not achieving your Personal Best (PB) or Last Time (LT), your performance is not always a clear reflection of the amount of training you undertake. Environmental conditionals also play a role. The crucial factor is to ensure you have given everything. And: For all workouts that you undertake in extreme conditions, you should always keep in mind that every body is different and therefore reacts differently to situations. Give what is possible. Listen to your body. And reach your goals.