The Heat Is On: Stay Cool with These Summer Workout Accessories

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The summer heat is enough to keep even the most dedicated exercisers lying indoors with the lights off and the shades drawn.  But if you want to make fitness a lifelong habit, that often means dealing with the changing seasons and temperature extremes without breaking stride.
I used to be much more of a "fair weather" exerciser. If it was raining, I'd skip my daily walk with the dog. If it was cold, I wouldn't leave the comfort of the indoors to walk to my car, let alone go out and run for an hour. But I can tell you that if you want to stick with a lifelong fitness plan—especially one that involves the highly accessible and inexpensive forms of exercise we know as running, walking or biking—changes in the weather are a fact you have to deal with. But I promise—no, really, I PROMISE—exercising in the summer heat (or even the dead of winter) is not as bad as you may think.
For me, exercising consistently in summer's hottest heat waves is dependent on four factors, all of which I have control over:
  1. Acclimation.  I've found that the best way to get used to exercising in the heat is to stop avoiding the heat. When you exercise outdoors all year round, you typically have slow and gradual seasonal changes that help your body acclimate naturally to the changing temperatures and increasing humidity. Spring gradually warms up to the height of summer temperatures—and when you are used to exercising in a moderately warm day, the first "hot" day is a lot less of a shock to your body. If you haven't been exercising outdoors since spring, don't worry: You can still acclimate to the weather by gradually increasing the time and intensity of your outdoor workout sessions. Just start small. (Of course, there are exceptions and for people with certain health or medical conditions, exercising in hot weather is particularly dangerous.  weather extremes are particularly dangerous. If that's you, then by all means find a better indoor option, preferably in the air conditioning.)
  2. Attitude. You can whine and moan about the weather, or you can simply accept it. Yep, it's hot out there. And in Cincinnati where I live, the humidity climbs close to 100% for days, making it feel even hotter. I expect to sweat when I work out, and really, I just sweat a little more in the summer. I don't complain—I just know that's how it's going to be. When you approach it with a neutral or even a slightly positive reaction, rather than a negative one, you'll fare better and exercise more consistently.
  3. Timing. I never ever exercise outdoors in the middle of the day when the sun's rays and the temperatures are the highest. It's more than uncomfortable—it's very risky. Whenever possible in the summer, plan your workouts first thing in the morning (usually, the earlier the better) or near the end of the day as the sun sets. These are your best chances for lower temperatures, lower humidity, and less direct sun.  When my alarm goes off early on a summer morning, this is major motivation for me to jump out of bed and go running. I know that if I wait, it'll be much worse—if not impossible—to do the same workout. Early to rise, early to run! Late to rise often means no run at all.
  4. Gear. Sweat-wicking, lightweight performance fabrics are a must for outdoor exercise in the summer. But in addition to the clothes you wear, there are a few fitness accessories that can go a long way in keeping you cool and comfortable. Below I'm showcasing a few of my favorite items to help beat the heat. 
Nathan SpeedDraw Plus Insulated Flask

Although a lot of runners and walkers prefer hydration belts that are slung over their hips or hydration backpacks that you wear on your shoulders, I've always found them to be bothersome. Enter the handheld water bottle. This water bottle features an adjustable hand strap with a thumb hole, so you can easily grip it while running. It comes out of the sleeve pictured for easy cleaning and in case you'd ever want to use it without the handheld sleeve. The fabric is also reflective, ensuring visibility when running at dawn or at nighttime. Plus, it has a handy pocket to store your keys, phone and gels. I'm a tree-hugging skeptical type, and I do avoid plastic as much as possible, but since I only use this bottle occasionally during my hottest, longest runs (vs. all day every day, for which I use stainless steel or glass bottles), I feel that it's a minimized risk.  Tip: On extra hot days, fill the bottle about half way and then freeze it. Add the rest of your water before the run and it'll melt slowly and stay cool for quite a while!

Smartwool Running Socks
My love of wool as a preferred workout material is no secret. I was surprised recently when some friends were shocked to find out that I wear wool socks even in the summer! In fact, they didn't even know that wool socks came in short, no-show styles designed for running. The awesome thing about wool—besides that it lasts, it doesn't stink, it's all-natural—is that it's naturally wicking and breathable. I like socks with a bit of cushion to them, and these fit the bill. My feet are never too hot or heated, nor do I ever get blisters. I promise that if you try working out in wool socks, you will never go back to anything else! You can find these online, at specialty running stores and at your local sporting goods store. Tip: Always read the label to find out exactly how much wool is in your sock or other apparel. The higher percentage the better! Very few items will be pure, 100% wool and nothing else. But you can find some great "off" brands with a high percentage of wool if you read the labels.

Outdoor Research Solar Roller Hat
If you spend a lot of time outdoors like I do—gardening, doing yard work, hiking or otherwise—then you may wish to have a go-to hat to keep you cool from the summer sun. I purchased this hat in 2010 for my Grand Canyon hiking and camping adventure. It was inexpensive, well fitting, light and breathable (so as to not trap heat around your head) and provided nice shade from the sun. It also works surprisingly well to keep you dry in some light rain. Even better: The hat itself is UPF 30, so it truly keeps you safe from the sun's rays in addition to helping shade your head and face.

Staying cool in the Grand Canyon back in 2010.
Badger Sport Sunscreen
I care deeply about what I put into my body and on my skin, choosing natural products as much as my budget allows. If you're opting for sunscreen, you may be surprised at how many nasty chemicals are in the products on the market today. I always defer to the Environmental Working Group's annual guide to sunscreens when choosing which brand I'll slather on my skin during the summer. "Sport" sunscreens are generally better for outdoor workouts since they are sweat resistant. One of the brands that scores well according to EWG's standards each year is Badger. This can be a tough brand to find offline (look for it at Whole Foods and other natural foods and health food stores), but makes a nice safe choice to protect your skin from the summer sun when you work out.
Goody Slide Proof Headwraps
If you have hair more than half an inch long, then you can probably benefit from a headband for your workouts. There's nothing that is more annoying—not to mention icky for your skin—than having your sweaty hair sticking to your face as you exercise. I've tried all kinds of headbands over the years to keep my hair controlled, and I keep coming back to these Goody headbands, which are inexpensive and readily available at just about any retail store or pharmacy. They have little rubber "grips" that really help them not just keep your hair in place, but keep the band itself from slipping off your head. As inexpensive as they are, I've never had one break either! Tip: I throw mine in the washing machine or give them a quick rinse in the shower after a sweaty workout to keep them fresh.  
My Goody headbands even stayed putted during the muddy obstacles of the Warrior Dash in 2011.
Gaiam Yoga Mat Towel
If you find yourself sweating so much that you're slipping and sliding on your mat, a yoga mat towel is a great solution. I practice at home (where our windows are usually open to the summer humidity) and also in a heated studio that reaches close to 90 degrees. That means a lot of sweat. Even my sticky yoga mat can't handle it all. So a few weeks ago, I treated myself to this Gaiam yoga towel. It's the exact size of a standard yoga mat. When I roll out my mat, I simply lay out the towel right on top of it. At first, I didn't really love the texture under my hands and feet, but what I noticed most was that slipping on my mat or avoiding the puddles of sweat during my practice was no longer an issue. The towel is super absorbent and it stays in place really well—no fuss. It's easily machine washable and you can throw it in the dryer, too!
Lululemon Running Hat
Visors are another great way to shield yourself from direct sun during a summer workout, while also allowing air to still circulate around your head  (unlike a traditional ball cap). But when you find the right hat—one made of wicking materials that is lightweight and breathable—I'd argue that a full hat is a little more versatile than a visor because it can also provide a light shield in the rain as well. This particular hat from Lululemon is made just for women and exercise. It's got the style and material you want—and even has a built-in hole for your ponytail to extend out the back! (Photo from
Cultivar Organic Dry Shampoo
When you exercise and sweat a lot, you may not always have the time or desire to wash your hair all the time. My hair actually looks better after I work out and sweat compared to when it's just washed. And with my crazy schedule, I often work out or get sweaty two or three times a day between a morning run, a midday kettlebell workout and an evening Pilates class, for example. You think I'm washing my hair after each of those sweaty episodes? Oh, heck no! My fitness beauty secret—especially for the hot, sweaty months of summer—is this dry shampoo by Cultivar. I've had the bottle for a couple of years and it's still nearly full. A little goes a very long way. It's all natural as well—no crazy chemicals. Just sprinkle it onto your scalp, rub it in like you're washing your hair, and you're done—no more greasiness. 
Here's a picture of me running the Hood to Coast relay in September 2011, during which Oregon was experiencing record high heat and many runners suffered heat-related injuries. I kept it cool with my wicking tank and running skirt! Note my Nathan water bottle, Goody headband, Nathan reflective vest (my leg of my relay was just before dusk) and, although the picture cropped them out, I was wearing my Smartwool socks, too!

I hope you find these tips and ideas helpful as you fight through the last month of summer. And remember that now is the perfect time to shop online and store sales for summer workout apparel so you can be ready to hit the ground running next year!
Share your favorite summer workout tip or accessory in the comments below!

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I love the SPF sun hats Report
Wicking fabrics for socks & tanks make a huge difference in whether I can walk in temps above even 70. They're awesome for heavy out-of-shape exercisers, not just fit runners! Believe me, I know! Report
What a great article with so many helpful suggestions! I am certainly going to try some of them and show this article to my sister as well! Thanks! Report
This is a great article. Thanks for all the tips! Report
Very nice compilation of reviews. Thank you! Report
I love this! Thank you, so cool Report
I love the fact that Nichole uses these items and show pictures of them in use- and not when she is on the job! Report
Very helpful reviews from USED equipment that you "go-to" Nicole. Thanks!

I'm one of those "fair-weather" exercise people. It usually is the RAIN that gets to me most (wet through & through...not a lovely experience!). Report
I'm gonna have to try the headbands! Thanks for sharing! Report
Thx for sharing! Report
In a previous blog you had mentioned working out in wool. I bought a wool jersey and found that its great for working out, even during the summer. I alternate the wool jersey with other synthetics. For me, the wool is as comfortable as my UnderArmour. And I love my UnderArmour jerseys.

Thanks for the HTC picture. Brings back memories. Report
Since I live in Florida it is warm out almost all the time (except for two weeks in February). We can swim in the outdoor pool in our complex from March to November, and sometimes even in December. In August the pool is sometimes like a hot tub! We do most of our activities with our grandkids, so we are always aware of cautions and sun screen and head coverings. Enjoy those warm days! Report
I live in a climate that is pretty hot and humid in the summer, and I do spend a lot of time outdoors. When it is the worst I might stay in and use the treadmill or do a DVD but I think that being outside makes us happier and healthier, and I do think that we can get acclimated to that. I do notice that I can't go as fast when it is super hot out. Report
I've recently read that freezing plastic water bottles is as dangerous as heating plastic up in microwave. Is that true?
Love all your workut clothes and ideas! Report
I love these cool workout clothes & gear !!! Report
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