Temperatures are expected to be high at Tokyo 2020, and it’s vital that you prepare your athletes accordingly to support their safety as well as their performance.
Practising and honing your athletes’ acclimation, hydration and cooling techniques before a target event is key to achieving success in hot weather.
These expert-led top tips come from the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission’s Adverse Weather Impact Working Group.
1. Acclimatise to the weather
There is no better way to prepare your athletes for the conditions in Tokyo than by getting them to experience similar conditions beforehand. It takes up to 14 days to acclimatise, so commencing heat-adaptation training two weeks prior to competition should be your target.
Furthermore, organising an initial heat acclimatisation camp several weeks prior to an event, in addition to a training camp immediately before, may help to enhance the rate at which your athletes can adapt at the pre-competition camp.
THE MOST IMPORTANT STRATEGY THAT YOU CAN ADOPT BEFORE AN EVENT IN THE HEAT IS TO TRAIN IN THE HEAT IN ORDER TO PROGRESSIVELY COMPENSATE FOR THE NEGATIVE EFFECT.
“The most important strategy that you can adopt before an event in the heat is to train in the heat in order to progressively compensate for the negative effect,” says Sébastien Racinais, Chair of the IOC Adverse Weather Impact Working Group.
2. Engage in heat acclimation
While acclimatisation is the act of training and competing in a natural environment, acclimation is when an athlete prepares in an artificial environment. This is another way to adapt to hot conditions, like in special purpose-built training chambers where heat and humidity can be adjusted. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to a purpose-built chamber, improvised low-tech hot rooms can be used, even with basic heating and other methods to warm a room.
Other techniques include wearing extra clothing to increase heat stimulus, hot water immersion, and sauna bathing pre- or post-training. These can provide benefits, reducing the time required for acclimatisation upon arrival to a new environment, though actively training in hot conditions is ideal.
3. Acquire appropriate equipment
Choice of equipment can play a large role in an athlete’s performance, especially in hot weather. Wearing UV-ray blocking sunglasses in a dark tint, known as category 3, will help to protect their eyes, while water-based sunscreen (non-greasy) is usually preferable to oil-based sunscreen, as the latter may affect sweating.
Light-coloured clothing can also help to protect athletes, as it reduces the effect of the sun’s radiation, but most importantly, you should always choose clothing that allows sweat evaporation, helping athletes to stay cool.
“You need to sweat, so you should not have anything impairing the sweating; for example, additional clothing. It’s good to expose your skin so that the sweat can evaporate,” says Prof. Racinais.
4. Create and develop a hydration plan
Proper hydration during competition is key in hot conditions, and creating and developing a hydration plan with your athletes can make the difference. Training and competing in a warm environment will cause profuse sweating for athletes, which may lead to progressive dehydration, disrupting performance and health – which is why encouraging athletes to stick to the plan you’ve made together is so important.
Everyone’s habits will differ, so make sure that you and your athletes speak to your medical team about what’s right for them, but it is still essential that they take on fluids before, during and after exercise. For hot-weather training and competition, recovery drinks should include sodium, carbohydrate and, if necessary, protein to help the recovery process.
Tailoring a plan for your athletes to stay hydrated should be done long before the target event, giving their body enough time to adapt before competition.
5. Equip your athletes with a pre-cooling strategy
Keeping your athletes cool before the start of competition can be vital to their performance level. Where possible, warm-ups should be conducted in the shade before an event, and you should also consider using ice vests, cold towels or fanning to keep your athletes’ body temperature low. Internal pre-cooling methods can also be used, for example cold fluid or ice slurry ingestion, which help to regulate an athlete’s body temperature.
You and your athletes should decide on your cooling strategies long in advance of the target event, and test the routine multiple times in training. Ideally, you should do this during acclimatisation so that, when the time comes, your pre-cooling strategy has been fully perfected and comes naturally to your athletes.
YOU AND YOUR ATHLETES SHOULD DECIDE ON YOUR COOLING STRATEGIES LONG IN ADVANCE OF THE TARGET EVENT, AND TEST THE ROUTINE MULTIPLE TIMES IN TRAINING.