While teaching my indoor cycling classes, I have noticed that some people shy away from fans and some plant themselves firmly in the wind. This led to an interesting discussion about the effects of temperature on performance during indoor workouts. I’ve done some reading over the years and I’ve learned that heat is your enemy indoors or out when it comes to performance.
There is a fairly common misconception in the indoor cycling (and other indoor sports) world that the person with the biggest sweat puddle is working the hardest, and therefore getting the most out of their indoor workout. I’ve seen many people choose locations in the spin room far away from the fans, telling me that they want to sweat more to get more out of their efforts. This is a completely inaccurate statement/idea and it’s one that can actually lead to poorer performance. How much you sweat is absolutely no indicator of the benefits you’re receiving from a particular workout.
It is very important to cool the body during exercise to perform at your best. This is especially critical indoors where you don’t have the benefit of the wind passing over your body. Numerous studies have been done to measure the effects of heat on performance and they all say the same thing…cool your body to perform at your best. (I’d site some of them here, but I don’t have time to look around for the actual research. Allen Lim is fairly notable for his work on this with Tour de France athletes, so start there if you want more reading.)
I learned this important fact years ago when I read a study about riders at the Olympic Training Center. Riders essentially did a power test without fans blowing on them and repeated the tests with fans blowing on them. The fans simulated the rider speeding through the air outside and resulted in a significant drop in body temperature through evaporation of sweat off of the skin. The riders without the fans sweat a ton as their body tried to cool, but their temperatures kept creeping up as they road. The riders with the fans blowing on them performed significantly better.
Your body is an incredible machine that can do an amazing amount of self-regulating. It knows when you are getting into a situation that can harm it. Therefore, riding without fans blowing on you increases your body temperature. When the temp gets high enough for your body to sense a problem, it will start shutting down to preserve vital organs and functions. Your body does not consider doing an interval a vital function and it will limit your performance in the name of self preservation. You won’t be able to work as hard. When you can’t work as hard, you don’t get as strong.
If you use the fans, dress in cooler clothing and drink cold fluids you can work out at a higher intensity for a longer period of time. This means you’ll see higher power numbers and lower heart rates during your intervals. Your body will not go into self preservation mode. Sure, you can ride an hour if you’re hot or cold, but the athlete that stays cooler can do more work. Doing more work is what makes you stronger in the long term.
So, the bottom line…forget about sweating more to look like you’re working out harder. Sweat puddles are all about ego. They are no indicator of the effectiveness of your indoor workouts. Crank up the fans, reduce your body temperature and get stronger this winter.
Reminder: Greenville Fitness & Rehab hosts “Bring Your Own Bike & Trainer” classes every Tuesday night at 6:15pm. We even have a few extra trainers if you don’t have one. Come join the fun. We have fans!