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TIPS FROM THE TRAINER: The basics of heat acclimatization

TIPS FROM THE TRAINER: The basics of heat acclimatization

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Ladies and gentlemen, we are living in some crazy times.

COVID-19 has affected us in so many different ways, including possibly postponing back to school, and especially fall sports.

One thing COVID-19 can’t change, though, is the weather! It is still summertime in South Carolina, and that means means the heat and humidity are full-fledged! For an athlete, this can be used to your advantage.

If you participate in a fall sport that has either gotten canceled or pushed back, you now have time help yourself get used to working out in this heat and acclimate!

Acclimation, or acclimatization, refers to a period before starting full practices where you are exposing yourself to a gradual onset of exercise in the heat. During this acclimatization period, you are helping your body adapt biologically and physiologically so that you are able to perform more efficiently in the heat by increasing your exercise capacity and reducing the risk for heat illness.

So, before I go any further into the how, let us review why you are acclimating to the heat.

This pandemic has been going on since March, and I’d bet that a lot of people have taken advantage of a drastic increase in free time, not necessarily by working out more. A lot of athletes might not be working out nearly as much as they used to, and now you might be going back into practices whether you will be competing or not. It is extremely important to make sure that you do not push yourself in this heat right off the bat and, now that there’s time, you can properly acclimate to this heat over a gradual period.

Heat illness ranges from heat exhaustion and heat cramps to, more severely, heat stroke. All of which are brought on by environmental heat stressors such as temperature, humidity and solar radiation.

Being in South Carolina, we have to worry about a combination of high temperatures and high humidity, because our natural cooling mechanisms in our body (sweating) are not effective with the high humidity. Our sweat is not able to evaporate, which is where the actual cooling comes from, the process of evaporation.

Let us get into the best recommendations for how to acclimate yourself to working out in the heat. Coaches should (hopefully) be incorporating an acclimation period into their workouts.

First off, acclimation should be a gradual onset. Trying to exercise too intensely, for too long, too many times a day will only make your chances of getting heat illness greater.

It is recommended that you have an acclimation period of seven to 14 days prior to starting full practices. If you acclimate for longer, you can progress your intensity over a longer amount of time.

For the first few days, you want to expose yourself to the heat for at least 90 minutes per day combined with light aerobic activity such as jogging, body-weight circuits or sub-maximal intervals.

Honestly, you don’t even have to do the exercise starting off; you can just be exposed to the heat for 90 consecutive minutes for the first couple of days. If you want to be exposed to heat for longer, split up the times you are exposed. Maybe do an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening with exercise so long as you give yourself at least a three-hour rest in between sessions and be in the heat no longer than three hours. Remember to take time to rest in some shade and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

After the first five days, increase the intensity of your workouts. After a week, you can begin alternating multiple acclimation sessions and single acclimation sessions, being sure not to exceed about two hours per session. Again, make sure you give yourself at least three hours in between sessions.

Here are some final things to remember about your journey to acclimate to the heat.

Your goal is to replicate your future competition environment, so work up to an appropriate intensity.

You want to make yourself sweat! Because you are making yourself sweat, make sure that you are increasing the amount of water that you drink as well and do not skip meals.

Another thing you may want to do is weigh yourself before and after your workouts to see how much weight you have lost to sweat (water weight) and be sure to rehydrate prior to your next workout.

Be sure to recover in cool environments; make sure the air conditioning is on while you sleep, for example.

Finally, be patient. This is going to be a rough process that few people enjoy doing, but the benefits that you will notice come time for your sport season will be well worth it.

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