Comparing approaches to heat acclimation to optimise its acquisition and maintenance in team sport athletes
The series of investigations aims to provide a comparison between continuous and intermittent heat acclimation protocols for team sport athletes, on repeated sprint performance in heat. Historically, long, continuous exercise daily heat acclimation protocols have been researched extensively and are widely recognised as a key defense against impairment in exercise performance in hot environments.
The first study will look at comparing a daily heat acclimation protocol (8 sessions), or an alternate day 8 session protocol over 16 days, to determine which is superior for improving repeated sprint ability in a hot environment through utilising intermittent, high intensity repeat effort exercise. Decay of favourable heat adaptations will be monitored in order to help determine in the second study, if a period of ‘top-up’ heat exposure (2 x per week) is enough to maintain heat acclimation status and performance in heat after a period of time in a cooler climate (4 weeks). The third and final study will aim to determine if heat acclimation has an influence on repeat sprint exercise in a temperate environment.
While historic research into heat acclimation techniques is extensive, the appropriateness of these protocols to current day team sport preparation schedules is questionable. Despite some short duration research there has been no investigation into longer duration protocols utilising short duration, intermittent, high-intensity exercise. Further to this, often team sport preparation schedules cannot employ ‘gold standard’ heat acclimation protocols due to the time restrictions that result from the many facets that encompass team sport training (i.e. physical conditioning, tactical training, recovery, etc).
Therefore, practical, intermittent alternatives that support, rather than interfere with team sport training schedules are of great value to this athletic population. Similarly, the rate of heat acclimation decay has particular significance for team sport athletes who may be required to play sporadically in hot/humid conditions throughout a competitive season, but may also spend a large amount of the competitive year in cooler climates. With a broader knowledge of how these physiological adaptations decay when team sport athletes return to cooler climates, appropriate training exposure to heat may be employed to maintain these beneficial heat adaptations over longer periods. If it is shown that such adaptations have an impact on exercise performance undertaken in temperate conditions, coaches may incorporate heat acclimation into a training program with the dual aim of preparing athletes for competitions in both hot/humid and temperate environments.