Beat The Heat This Pre-Season
Travelling abroad during preparations for an upcoming season has become routine for professional clubs, with Asia, the United States and Australia often popular choices due to commercial opportunities, new opposition, and, well, let’s face it, the weather. Blessed with soaring temperatures around the 30°C mark, and while we’re sure players enjoy topping up the base tan, such destination’s climate is a factor coaches have to negotiate when getting squads in shape.
Whether you plan to fly somewhere tropical or will be staying at home, make sure you beat the heat when it comes to your pre-season plans. To guarantee you’re in the best condition possible for a new campaign, we spoke to our resident sports scientist Chris Barnes about how to successfully manage training this summer.
Modify your training
Not only is it impossible to train at your usual intensity in blazing heat, but it’s also dangerous. Make sure you have acclimatised before doing anything too demanding, while shorter sessions with more rest periods in-between should be encouraged to allow time out of the sun and a chance to take on fluids.
“What we have to bare in mind is that the sport of football is not really a maximal sport,” Barnes says. “Ninety minutes of football does not absolutely empty your tank, but the heat does apply additional stress. It makes an awful lot of sense in the run up to games, that if you’re playing in the heat or in hot countries, it makes a lot of sense to keep training sessions relatively short and more regular than usual fluid breaks.
“It’s amazing the amount of weight you lose in these sorts of games. If you take that approach, you should still be able to produce close to Premier League workloads in games.”
The heat can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to poorly-fuelled bodies, so you’ll need to keep an eye on what your drinking. Dehydration not only negatively impacts your performance but it’s also a health risk, so increase the amount of fluid you’re drinking during your preparation, performance and recovery as you’ll be losing plenty while exercising in high temperatures. Avoid carbonated drinks, coffee and alcohol, instead opt for water or sports drinks with approximately six per cent carbohydrates.
“Most Premier League clubs I’ve been with during pre-season will go on a trip to somewhere a little bit warmer than the UK,” begins Barnes. “We would always weigh players before and after football matches and I’ve seen players lose up to four kilograms in a game which is five per cent plus of body mass – that’s huge. That’s even with them taking on board fluids at half-time and sometimes during the halves. It’s a serious issue.
“There’s a lot of research out there that will tell you a two per cent loss in body weight will lead to a decrease in performance. Your vision, decision making and ability to execute the fine skills that are required in football will be affected.
“During the game the major concern is fluid loss so I would recommend a fluid that contains electrolytes, so with sodium and potassium, and then post-match, continue with that fluid and also take on board energy related drinks – something that is five to seven per cent carbohydrate.”
Prepare for tomorrow
After a tough workout in the sun, it’s a good idea to go easy on the static stretching and instead rest up. It may sound mad to neglect what’s a tried and tested post-match routine, but replacing that with a relaxing muscular loosening the following day can decrease the chance of picking up an injury.
“It’s important to rest after training in the sun, but you also have to accept that it’s training,” explains the sports scientist. “Your recovery protocols are just as important. You will see, for recovery purposes but also for the purposes of re-setting the thermal clock in the body, people going to cool or cold baths. A lot of these clubs on foreign training grounds will have baths and ice coolers beside the pitch.
“Normally at the end of a session a member of the coaching team will take the team for a series of static stretching exercises and they will be holding these stretches for a long period of time. That’s because the body’s natural reaction to exercise is a protective one, so the muscles contract. What you’re doing then is encouraging these muscles to return back to their original lengths.
“There’s a long-term protective effect in there and taking on board that kind of exercise. If you’re in the heat make sure you get out of the heat, do it somewhere in the shade. If you’re going into a swimming pool, do it in the swimming pool.”
There are few things better than playing football in the sun, but there’s also health benefits that go with it. Among them includes an increase to your blood volume, meaning you can train for longer at higher intensities. However, you’ll need to build on this slowly as doing too much can cause injury while it’s also worth noting that the effects will wear off after seven to 10 days.
“There’s all sorts of activation that you could be faced with. If you went to somewhere like Peru you would also have altitude to acclimatise to, but heat is exactly the same” says Barnes. “It’s quite simple really: start with a relatively short session and then gradually increase the duration of the session. The first session, if you do go from normal UK temperatures to something say like Dubai in the summer, the first session will not very pleasant at all but the body will acclimatise within two or three days.”