Before you put the shoulder pads on for football season, put down the electronics, get out of the house and get acclimatized.
Acclimatization is the term used for adapting to a specific environment, such as altitude or heat and humidity. Summer weather can be extreme, placing significant stress on an athlete’s body and causing his or her performance to suffer. With the start of pre-season camps nearing, now is the time to prepare for the heat with these basic tips on acclimatization.
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When first beginning to train in hot temperatures, the body struggles to effectively regulate its temperature. Once an athlete has adapted to the environment, his or her body tends to handle these temperatures significantly better. Skin temperature remains lower, core temperature remains lower, and blood volume remains higher, which allows the heart to pump blood to muscles much more effectively.
Sweating begins earlier and at a higher volume, meaning that athletes are able to stay cooler. After adapting, athletes lose less sodium through sweat than when they first began training, which can improve the retention of fluids that are consumed during exercise. In addition, when acclimatized, athletes tend to recognize their fluid needs better, feeling the effects of thirst earlier and drinking more fluids overall. Finally, acclimatization decreases the amount of energy an athlete expends during activity, so it takes longer for him or her to fatigue.
So how does an athlete acclimatize? Acclimatization typically takes 10-14 days, although benefits can be seen within a few days. To fully prepare, it’s best to begin training at least two to three weeks in advance. Start with light outdoor training sessions, gradually adding more time and intensity until you’re able to comfortably tolerate 90 minutes of activity. Go for a jog, run routes, work on your footwork, or play a pickup game with friends.
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Once you’re able to reach 10-14 total days of hard training, take a day or two to rest between sessions to give your body time to recover. Although acclimatization is helpful, you don’t want to begin camp totally drained, so find a time to schedule one or two days of rest within the two to three weeks of training build-up.
The purpose of this process is to prepare the body for a specific environment. To prepare for practice in a hot and humid environment, do your training in a hot and humid environment, not a cool or dry climate. Take into consideration the time of day that practice will take place. If your team practices in the mid-afternoon, start training at this time of day rather than early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Training in the environment in which practice occurs will help you more comfortably excel while your competition struggles to cope with the strain of summer weather.
Pre-season practice is meant to prepare you for the upcoming season, but it’s also a time to prove yourself in front of coaches and teammates. Struggling to handle the heat can convey the impression that you’re out of shape, when it may simply be that your body is not fully prepared to regulate its temperature, causing unwanted stress and fatigue. Learning to build adaptation to the heat can help you stand out among your competition, allowing you to focus on preparing for games rather than building up your conditioning.
- Périard, J.D., Travers, G.J.S., Racinais, S. and Sawka, M.N. (2016) “Cardiovascular adaptations supporting human exercise-heat acclimation,” Autonomic Neuroscience, . doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2016.02.002.
- Sawka, M. and Périard, J. (2015) “Heat Acclimatization to Improve Athletic Performance in Warm-Hot Environments,” Gatorade Sports Science Exchange, 28(153).