With smoky skies covering much of the North America, do y’all change your training at all based on air quality? Is training outside in the smoke (smoke at altitude not at ground level) dangerous or counterproductive for a fit individual with no smoke sensitivities or other health conditions? I wore an N95 on a training ride this morning, which was sort of uncomfortable, but survivable. I just wonder if it is necessary. I don’t have access to my trainer right now, so that’s not an option for me.
I happened to researching that a bit for an upcoming podcast on the topic and came across this recent article you may find of interest. In general, train in the morning when possible, but really there’s not a whole heck of much you can do other than trying to be really healthy, as your immune system will need to kick into overdrive. It’s not ideal for our health.
I wouldn’t think smoke at altitude but not at ground level would be a problem at all.
Thanks for the article. One thing to note, where I live, the smoke is worse in the mornings, apparently because the lower temperatures allows it to settle near the ground. The morning aspect may be for vehicle emissions vs forest fire smoke, or may differ from place to place.
Dr. Michael Koehle at the Environmental Physiology Lab here at UBC is the go-to expert on exercise in air pollution, including fire smoke.
(also that Alex Hutchinson link @PaulLaursen posted)
The main message is that air pollution / smoke is bad, and it’s bad always, not just during exercise.
Exercise is good, and it’s always good, although slightly less good, in smoke.
It’s a balance of exposure and mitigating risks as possible. Exercise inside can be better, especially with an air filtration system.
If it’s worth wearing a mask during exercise, it’s probably worth wearing a mask the rest of the time as well.
Exercise intensity does not seem to matter much. This is counter-intuitive. Duration matters far more for the total exposure to pollution.
Smoke & particulates are typically better in the day, and worse in the evening, overnight, & early morning as you say @jvbailey88. However, other source of pollution (ozone, traffic exhaust, etc.) are typically better early morning and worse during the afternoon. This might not be easily determined by an ‘eye test’ of the visual conditions outside our window.
An air quality index forecast like this one is useful to monitor
During the California fires two summers ago, I relied on PurpleAir real-time readings to find out where the air was good enough to ride in. Sometimes riding in a ridge 2K feet in the air was best, other times not. Or riding along parts of the coast would work.
I would ride with the free app on the phone and look at it every 20 minutes or so, and was able to get some nice rides when the overall Bay area air quality was low.
PurpleAir seems to slightly under report air quality, but it gives a good enough range, and it works by reading the PurpleAir units in peoples homes (I have one in my yard) so you get very localized readings.
Hey everyone, we love the advice and opinions provided here, and decided to reach out to Dr. Koehle himself for some endurance athlete-specific recommendations for training in poor air quality. We also thought it was interesting how many people go by sight alone when determining outside air quality, and asked if that was a sufficient enough method–and unfortunately for ozone pollution, it’s not. Check out Dr. Koehle’s article on our site here for more info: Is Training in Air Pollution Worth It?