Recently, after re-reading my last blog entry (March 2022), I put several additional things together.
I was re-watching Dr. Andrew Huberman’s (professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at the Stanford School of Medicine) podcast on palm cooling and the improvements in endurance as a result of the cooling effect. Huberman states:
This episode I explain the science of heating and cooling the body, a process called thermoregulation– and how to apply that knowledge to significantly improve physical performance. I describe the three areas of our body that can remove heat (or bring heat into the body) faster than anywhere else, why that is so, and how proper cooling of these areas with specific protocols can allow people to perform 200-600% more volume and repetitions of resistance exercises at the same weight loads, or to run, cycle or swim significantly further. I also describe how to use directed cooling of so-called glabrous skin: the bottoms of feet, palms and face, to significantly enhance recovery times from exercise.Andrew Huberman, podcast Supercharge Exercise Performance & Recovery with Cooling,Huberman Lab Podcast #19
This sounds all fine and dandy. Huberman’s laboratory even invented a glove (or Coolmitt) that you wear to cool down your hands to achieve the desired temperature reduction. This is the goal regardless of whether the heat is generated internally or externally. Usually, this situation presents itself as a double-whammy when you’re running on a hot day. Unfortunately, Huberman’s device is a bit too cumbersome, to say the least. It’s great for increasing your pullups, pushups, etc., in the gym. But it is virtually unusable for runners.
I also came across another video by Tess on the Run (https://youtu.be/jQ0PxNAK7vI) that mentions that you can run faster by running in the heat!! Yep, running in the heat helps improve your cardiovascular fitness and makes you faster because your body has to adapt to the heat.
This actually ties back to a study by Guy S M Scoon et al. (2007) Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners, J Sci Med Sport. suggests the same results are possible by using saunas twice a week (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16877041/.) Thomas De Lauer in his video on the aerobic benefits of saunas (https://youtu.be/xZAkUmX3A5E) also referenced this study. I think the study is suggestive, but the sample size is very small, n=6, to draw any solid conclusions. This study is also referenced by Dr. Rhonda Patrick about 43.5 minutes into her interview on Medcram (https://youtu.be/RWkv9ad7zvc)
So, what? Well, all of these ideas a based on the same notion that when you get hot you fatigue easier. Heat is heat no matter where it comes from. Huberman’s approach is to cool the body down externally. This is the biomedical or theoretical approach. While you may not be able to cool your body down, you can train it to operate more efficiently in hotter weather. The only way for this to happen is to apply Tess on the Run’s suggestion of training in hotter weather.
Here’s the new stuff: unless you live in a hot climate, running in hot weather may only be a seasonal solution. Living in a hot climate is often uncomfortable at best. Rhonda Patrick, AKA, Dr. Sauna, may have the easiest solution with more control: periodic sauna baths. Based on Scoon, et. al.’s study you can achieve the same results of training in hot weather by taking a minimum of 2×20 minute saunas per week. Taking a 20-minute sauna after your workout apparently increases your aerobic capacity. It also gets your body used to functioning in hotter environments.
To summarize, there are then two somewhat orthogonal approaches to dealing with excessive heat when exercising:
- Mechanically cooling your body down while exercising; and
- Passively training your body to deal with excessive heat.
The first point requires using an external machine to take advantage of the natural cooling interfaces in your body, i.e., your hands, face, and feet. For most runners, this is totally impractical. On the other hand, acclimatizing the body to function more efficiently is something everyone can do. It’s actually something that can be achieved without training in the hot & humid conditions needed for adaption. You can do your regular workout and then spend 20-minutes at least 2 times a week relaxing in a sauna immediately after your workout. Wow, what a bonus!
So, next time you’re training for a race, start taking a sauna twice a week and see if you run faster.