Monday, December 9, 2013
By DR. JAMES GLAZER
It's August, and for thousands of Maine athletes that means one big thing: two-a-day workouts are about to begin. Whether you're Albert Haynesworth, the newest New England Patriot, or you are the newest member of your high school's field hockey squad, two-a-days are one of the biggest physical challenges of the fall sports season.
This year, thanks to our warm summer, athletes have an additional obstacle: dealing with the heat. August two-a-day workouts, more than any other time of the year, are when I see heat illness in athletes.
There are two main reasons for this. Though coaches try to avoid the hottest parts of the day, workouts almost always last into the midday hours. This is when the sun's power is strongest and when athletes are most at risk for overheating.
Another reason that two-a day workouts are risky has to do with the fact that coaches often don't give athletes a chance to cool down adequately before the next session. Without adequate cooling, the body's temperature can gradually creep upward into a dangerous range.
Let's talk numbers. Our normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. With physical exertion, an athlete generally has a body temperature of about 102, but on hot days it can reach 105 or even 106. The threshold for heatstroke? You guessed it: temperatures over 104.
This doesn't mean that all exercising athletes go on to have heatstroke. It's not hard to see the risk, though.
Some elite NCAA and NFL teams have recognized the importance of cooling down their athletes. They have adopted strategies that keep the players recovering quickly.
You might think that their approaches involve fleets of highly-trained medical staff and sophisticated multimillion dollar machines. You'd be wrong. The most elite athletes in the world are cooling down ... in kiddie pools.
That's right. The NFL and the NCAA know that immersion in water is the best and fastest way to get an athlete's core temperature back to normal after a workout. In fact, it takes only about 10 minutes in a pool to cool down from 104 to 98.6.
Cooling doesn't even have to be uncomfortable. While many teams still use ice water in their pools, a growing number, including the national champion Florida Gators (who know a thing or two about exercising in the heat) use tepid water. That's the stuff you'd get out of your water hose.
I recently led a research team at the Beach 2 Beacon road race looking into this. It turns out that tepid water cooled athletes almost as fast as ice water. The athletes felt a lot more comfortable in the tepid water, too.
The Florida Gators, and many other elite teams, have a very simple approach to getting their athletes to use the pools. They place them between the field and the locker rooms.
As they make their way back from practice, athletes get into the pools, uniforms and all. They spend a few minutes in the water cooling down.
If your team doesn't use cooling tanks, you can set up an NFL training room environment at home. Plastic kiddie pools are great, but so are the watering troughs you can buy at most farm stores. Fill them with water from a hose once a day and don't worry too much if they warm a little in the sun.
The advantages of cooling down are not unique to football players. All athletes can benefit from dropping their core temperatures after workouts. It speeds recovery, helps muscles regenerate and reduces the risk of heatstroke. So help your athletes train like the professionals and make sure they take a dip after workouts this summer.
Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the U.S. Ski Team.