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The only problem with hot weather is that, well, it's so darn hot outside. Put the cool factor back into your workout routine with these tricks from top fitness pros:1. Adjust your body temperature
Hop into a cold shower before your workout. A German study this year found that a pre-exercise cooldown improves performance in the heat -- probably because it lowers your heart rate as well as core and skin temperatures. Too chicken to try it? Even just cooling your neck or head with an ice pack may make a difference.2. Check the map
Does your usual running route leave you broiling in the sun? Find a shady new one through the Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org), which features running routes around the country via Google maps. You can also log on to weather.com, which offers a local parks forecast, a fitness comfort index, and an hourly forecast to help you figure out the best time of day to exercise.3. Keep tabs on your ticker
The hotter it is, the harder your body has to work -- so if you normally run at a 9-minute-mile pace, when the temperature hits 90 you may find yourself having to slow down to a 10.
"This is where a heart-rate monitor comes in handy. You can make sure you're not pushing yourself too hard in warm-weather conditions, which can up your risk of heat exhaustion or even heatstroke," explains Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego.
One of our favorite new models: Garmin's Forerunner 205 ($249.99, garmin.com/dealers), which not only monitors your heart but also your speed, distance, pace, and calories (it comes with a supersensitive GPS system that even works on tree-covered trails and near tall buildings). More of a low-tech type? Both Timex and Reebok offer heart-rate monitors with fewer bells and whistles for as little as $50.
An even simpler way to check that you're not overdoing it: Try to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. You'll know you're exercising hard enough when you have to take a quick breath every three to six words (murmur it under your breath if you're worried about getting funny looks).4. Get the dirt
Try to walk, run, or cycle on dirt or gravel paths, since asphalt and concrete tend to radiate heat and reflect the sun's rays, making you feel hotter. Live near water? Take advantage of the breeze on even steamy days; if possible, start out with the wind at your back, so when you're finishing you'll be running into a headwind, which is cooler.5. Cool down with essential oils
Dabbing a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil on the back of your neck and at your temples just before your workout provides a cooling effect and also opens up your nasal passages, so you can breathe a little easier when the air is humid, says Minna Lessig, creator of the Tank Top Arms, Bikini Belly, Boy Shorts Bottom DVD. In fact, research has found that athletes who sniffed peppermint during their workout ran faster, had greater grip strength, and could do more push-ups than those who didn't.
To keep your fitness level up when the mercury is too, do your regular cardio (whether it's walking, running, swimming, or biking) at a slightly slower pace, but add in 30-second speed bursts every three to five minutes. You'll maintain your conditioning and burn more calories without having to go all-out the entire time, says Doug Chapman, president of Hyperfit USA, a fitness boot camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan.7. Make like a pretzel
Turn the rising temperature to your advantage and concentrate on improving your flexibility with some yoga moves. "When your body temperature is up, you can go deeper into a pose," says Edward Vilga, author of Yoga for Suits and a yoga instructor from New York City. One move to try for perpetually tight hamstrings: Stand and bend forward from the waist, reaching toward the floor (if you're not flexible enough to touch the ground, put your gym bag or a tote in front of you and touch that). Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. To stretch your hips -- another inflexible zone -- sit with one leg crossed over the opposite thigh and bend forward, keeping your arms outstretched; hold for 5 to 10 breaths.8. Practice random acts of fitness
Sneak in little bits of exercise with some summer-friendly activities. For example: Washing the car for 30 minutes burns about 100 calories for a 140-pound woman; gardening burns 128. Other options: throwing a Frisbee, walking the dog, playing a game of volleyball (all about 100 calories), mowing the lawn (176 calories), biking around the neighborhood (192 calories), or hula-hooping, which burns about 50 calories in just 10 minutes.9. Protect your head
A mesh visor is a great way to shield your face from the sun while still allowing excess heat to escape from your head. One good option: the Nike Feather Light Visor ($18, nike.com), which has a Dri-Fit terry sweatband to move moisture away from the skin and mesh insets to keep cool breezes flowing. If you're biking, consider one of the new helmets that have deep vents to provide breezy airflow, such as Specialized's new Decibel bike helmet ($170, specialized.com) and Giro Pneumo ($145, giro.com).
They're more than 80 percent water, so fruits such as grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew are a tasty way to replenish fluids and boost your energy post-workout, says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Keep 'em frozen for a refreshing treat. Other good options: Smoothies, frozen yogurt, or Jell-O with fruit chunks. "They provide the perfect mix of carbs and fluid and they're easily digestible in the summer heat," explains Bonci. If you've lost a lot of salt (hint: your clothes have white sweat stains after a workout), replace sodium by drinking V8 or a sports drink.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July 2007.