How To Acclimate Student-Athletes to Heat

The National Athletic Trainers' Association has released guidelines for acclimating high school student-athletes to heat during late-summer practices.

If high school student-athletes, particularly those participating in sports that require protective equipment, are not properly acclimated to the extreme heat of late-summer practices, they can suffer chronic if not fatal consequences. As part of an ongoing effort to reduce the number of heat-related athletic injuries in secondary schools, the National Athletic Trainers' Association has released the following comprehensive heat-acclimation guidelines for high school athletics programs.

Limit practices to one per day during the first five days of the heat-acclimation process.

Practice no more than three hours per day during the first five days. If a practice is interrupted by inclement weather or heat restrictions, recommence the practice once conditions are deemed safe.

Allow a one-hour-maximum walk-through during the first five days, but insert a three-hour recovery period between the practice and the walkthrough (or vice versa).

Permit only the wearing of helmets during the first two days of the heat-acclimatization period for sports requiring helmets and shoulder pads. Don't allow goalies, as in the case of field hockey and related sports, to wear full protective gear or perform activities that would require protective equipment. During days three through five, permit only helmets and shoulder pads to be worn. Beginning on day six, allow for all protective equipment to be worn and full contact to begin.

Follow double-practice days with a single-practice day, with double-practice days permitted to begin no earlier than the sixth day and continue through the 14th day. Additionally, when a double-practice day is followed by a rest day, another double-practice day is permitted after the rest day.

Complete any one practice of a double-practice day within three hours, and don't allow student-athletes to participate in more than five total hours of practice in a given double-practice day. Include warm-up, stretching, cool-down, walkthrough, conditioning and weight-room activities as practice time. Separate the two practices by at least three continuous hours in which athletes are in a cool environment.

Make every effort to have an athletic trainer on site before, during and after all practices. The risk of exertional heat illnesses during the preseason heat-acclimation period is high.

Douglas Casa ([email protected]), Ph.D., ATC, FACSM, FNATA, is director of athletic training education, associate professor of kinesiology, and research associate of the Human Performance Laboratory in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. David Csillan ([email protected]), MS, ATC, is an athletic trainer at Ewing (N.J.) High School and a member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
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