Be Prepared to Handle Heat and Humidity

When you’re 3,000 meters into practice and the heat slaps you in the face, the rest of your row might feel terrible. Understanding how humidity – not just the temperature – can impact your performance will help you from overheating or dehydrating.

Oy, it’s Hot

As you work through 1,000m repeats, your body temperature rises and that’s when the sweating begins. For some people it’s a light “glistening” for others the drips start pouring off the tip of your nose. Evaporation of the sweat off of your skin works to cool your body down. At the same time, blood is being diverted to the muscles to supply them with oxygen, causing less blood flow to the skin. This leads to overheating.

It’s so Humid!

It’s not just the air temperature that gets you hot and bothered when you’re rowing. The risk of heat exhaustion is even higher when it’s humid because the air is saturated and your body has to work harder to cool down. The higher the relative humidity, the more water there is in the air. When sweat stays on your skin, you know it’s not evaporating and you’re not cooling down enough.

Humidity Affects Performance

According to active.com, when humidity levels are at 60-90%, your heat rate can increase up to 10 beats per minute. So a 6:00 pace could feel like a 4:00 pace because your heart is pumping much harder and faster.

Kick Humidity’s Butt: Hydrate

The first couple of weeks of warm, humid weather training will be tough, but your body should adapt with consistent training. Keeping hydrated is key for muscle contraction, avoiding cramps, and staying mentally sharp.

If you practice in the morning, drink a glass of water when you wake up. Your body loses water while you sleep, so you’re naturally dehydrated in the morning. A glass of water before heading to practice makes for happy muscles.

BEFORE & DURING EXERCISE

According to USRowing, a 3-pound weight loss – just 2% dehydration – in a 160-pound athlete over the course of a single training session, may have have a negative impact on performance.

To prevent dehydration while rowing, drink 5 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes before and during training in humidity. Studies show that athletes who drink cold fluids during exercise see a significantly smaller rise in core body temperature compared to drinking room temperature fluids. To help delay an increase in your body’s core temperature, make sure you fill your water bottle with cold fluid, put it in the fridge before practice, and/or add ice cubes to make sure it stays colder longer while you’re out in the boat.

AFTER EXERCISE

To replenish fluids after exercise, USRowing suggests drinking 2 ml per pound of body weight per hour (A 160-pound rower needs 320ml per hour or ~9 ounces, per hour). Drink this amount of cool water 1-2 hours after exercise. While ice-cold water might seem tempting after a hot and humid workout, it is suggested that cool (not ice cold) water is better absorbed by your body. Drink cool water to rehydrate your body faster.

With consistent, well-hydrated training in humid weather, your rowing efficiency will improve as your body adapts and is better able to dissipate heat and control its core temperature. Your body will cool off better and your sweat will by less salty, so you lose fewer electrolytes.


I was motivated to write this post after watching one of my rowers struggling in the late-May heat and humidity here in Washington, D.C. Working through a 1,000m race piece she nearly threw up and – like a true competitor – dug deep and hung on through the finish. But, if she had better managed hydration, she could have felt a lot better that morning.

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