9 easy ways to cool down after exercise during a heatwave

how to exercise in the heat: woman drinking from a water bottle

When the mercury rises, hydration becomes key

(Image credit: Getty)

Summer sunshine is certainly more motivating than wet, windy winters, but when your hot weather workout comes to a end, it can be difficult to cool back down. This is especially the case in humid conditions, when the air is already so saturated that even your body's attempts to cool itself down by sweating won't help.

We've all been there after a run or a gym session, sweating onto our fresh clothes, even after having taken a shower, long after our workout ended. It's not ideal, particularly if you've got things to be getting on with. Luckily for you, we're here with our experts tips for cooling down after a heatwave workout.

Ready, set, sweat!

How to cool down after exercise during a heatwave

Our nine tips for cooling down after exercise in a heatwave are:

Meet the experts

fiona on the cuillin
Fiona Russell

Fiona is an avid runner who enjoys both road and trail running. She's tackled various distances over the years and knows all about keeping herself cool on long, adventurous runs. Here, she shares her best tips for cooling down after working out in a heatwave.

Alex Foxfield: on Scafell
Alex Foxfield

While Alex's favorite season involves snow, ice, ice axes and crampons, he loves a bit of summer runnin'. He's happiest in the mountains, where there's very little shade (in the UK, anyway) and has built up many strategies for coping with the summer sun.

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1 Choose the right time for your workouts

Workout stats on Garmin Lily 2 watch

Time your workout right (Image credit: Lucy Miller)

It makes sense to avoid working out during the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its height. Aim for the cooler morning or evenings before starting your exercise session. If you do need to fit in a workout in the hotter part of the day, choose places that offer more shade. It's a great time to lace up your best trail running shoes and go exploring the woods, or head indoors to an air-conditioned gym.

It may be that you are specifically seeking warm weather to do a little heat training to prepare for a race that could be scorching hot. Studies suggest that strategic heat training is beneficial. Your body will slowly adapt, lowering the temperature at which you start to sweat and making more blood plasma, which allows you to cool down for effectively. However, be aware that there are risks of running in a heatwave, so it's important to prepare properly. The last thing you want is heatstroke.

2 Get cool before you go

If you are already feeling hot before you exercise then your body may struggle to cope, so it's a good idea to start out cool. Cooling down before a run or workout will help to slow the rate at which your body temperature rises while you exercise. A 2012 literature review suggested that pre-cooling may also lead to better performance (though past studies on the topic have been small).

For the best effects, aim to hydrate with cold drinks for a couple of hours before you exercise, take a cold shower or use ice packs to cool your temperature a bit. Staying hydrated is also our number 1 tip for exercising outdoors during a heatwave, as well as before and after.

Woman drinking water from bottle before a workout

If you are already feeling hot before you exercise then your body may struggle to cope (Image credit: Getty)

3 Time for a stretch

Stretching after exercise has benefits for your muscles and joints, but it also allows your heart rate to slow and your body to start to come back to a cooler temperature. 

The best way to cool down after a run or similar, especially if you have been working hard, is to slow your pace to a walk. Once you feel your heart rate has settled – you can check your sports watch for this – you should then spend some 10 minutes stretching muscles. 

In addition, taking time to stretch will delay your desire to jump straight into a cold shower. A cold shower when you are hot will leave you even sweatier than before. Try it if you don’t believe us!

4 Try a hot-and-cold shower

A shower is a great way to cool your body after exercise and stretching, but if you stand in a cold shower immediately, you might find you sweat even more.

Take a shower after you've cooled down and make sure it’s not cold the entire time. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that athletes who alternated soaking in hot and cold water after exercising experienced a significant reduction in their heart rate and blood lactate levels.

Shower head in bathroom

Alternating hot and cold water in the shower could help you recover more quickly (Image credit: Getty)

5 Strip down

Lying or sitting somewhere cool and without clothes on can help your body to cool
quicker. A spot of naked rest and recovery after a shower could be the best solution for a speedier post-workout cool down.

6 Try ice

A towel soaked in cold water, a bag of ice wrapped in a towel, or a towel that has been in the fridge or freezer can be useful for placing on pulse points to provide all-over-body cooling. Use the cool fabric on places such as wrists, ankles, inside the elbows and at the back of your knees.

Woman with towel around neck after workout

A towel soaked in cold water can help bring your temperature down (Image credit: Getty)

7 Cool your skin

Some skin lotions and ointments, such as those including ingredients like menthol or peppermint, can help you to feel cooler. You can also use after-sun, even if you've not  Try not to use heavy moisturisers as this may end up blocking pores, which will reduce effective sweating. You can looking for a light moisturiser with cooling ingredients.  

8 Have a drink

Most people reach for an iced drink to try to cool down after exercise, but a hot drink can also help you to cool off. It might seem strange but research backs up this idea and shows that in dry, hot climates, reaching for your hiking flask and having a hot drink can have cooling results.

It’s suggested that the heat from the drink in your mug triggers a sweating response. The reason why this doesn’t work in humid conditions, as your sweat won't evaporate as well and you won't cool down as much. Therefore, in hot and humid conditions, choose a cold drink. 

For even greater cooling powers, try peppermint tea, hot or cold, or add fresh mint leaves to your drink.

9 Fan yourself

Physically cooling your skin with a fan, whether it’s a hand-operated fan or an electric fan, will help with the cooling process post-workout.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.