A large amount of football (soccer for some people) teams will travel to the sunshine both in preseason and during the in-season. Some of this is for commercial reasons, other reasons might be psychological but there’s also a belief it helps to improve physiological fitness. This short blog piece will discuss the reasons why and if it really works.
Why train in the heat?
So, why spend all this money to train in the sunshine. Not only does it help your mood there’s some physiological changes as well. One study showed that 1 week of training in the heat was shown to improve performance in field-based tests in a group of 15 footballers between the ages of 20 – 30 years old. There was a remarkable increase of an average of 7% in this group (Bucheit et al, 2011). If you take away the 5% daily variability in results (Krustrup et al, 2003) this is still a 2% increase.
The most important part is that these were players who were in the middle of their season when you wouldn’t be expecting a change. What caused this you might ask? Well the authors suggested that the change was associated with a change in plasma volume which is a component of your blood. This is the response your body has to the increased sweat response and associated dehydration.
There are many studies showing this similar result in other sports. One showed a change in plasma volume and sport specific testing in as short a time as 5 days (Garrett et al, 2012). This is a notable change in physiology within such a short space of time in a very well-trained group. In a professional environment where ‘marginal gains’ are so sought after it’s obvious why teams will go to the sunshine to get these improvements.
What is hot enough?
The studies I’ve presented all report temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius or above! The football study was completed in Qatar for 11 days. Their testing was completed in a temperate climate which they classed as 22 degrees Celsius. For us in Scotland the temperate testing conditions would be considered a hot summers day. Interestingly the normal destinations in Europe that football teams will travel to have an average summer temperature less than 30 degrees Celsius. There is likely a continuum of response and also individual differences, but the research would suggest that the current travel isn’t optimal for heat related physiological improvements.
Further to this the previously mentioned study by Garrett and colleagues restricted fluid intake before and during the training sessions. Athlete weren’t allowed to take on board fluids for 90 minutes during the acclimation phase. This goes completely against what would be the advice given to players during training in normal situations where hydration would be a priority. Also training in this heat with no water is undoubtedly going to affect the quality of a training session.
Why do we go?
It’s becoming more common for teams (especially those who have more money) to travel to warmer climates to get better results. However, for those without the money why do they still go to the heat during their preseason and in-season? Well, my opinion is that teams still travel for a few reasons. Firstly, they still see a physiological benefit of training in the heat especially when completing double sessions of more than 60 mins each time. Secondly, the psychological benefit of working hard in difficult conditions breeds a work ethic and togetherness that helps when they return home. Lastly, being away with the same group for 7 – 14 days helps to improve team dynamics and work on relationships both on and off the field.
Training in the heat helps.
If it’s hotter it’s better (although over 35 degrees brings with it health & safety issues)
Benefits can be gained with 5 days if done optimally
Finally, it might be possible for players to gain more if they travel to a very warm climate during their offseason to help kickstart changes in plasma volume and improve fitness levels for the return to training.
Buchheit, M., Voss, S.C., Nybo, L., Mohr, M. and Racinais, S., 2011. Physiological and performance adaptations to an in‐season soccer camp in the heat: Associations with heart rate and heart rate variability. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 21(6), pp.e477-e485.
Garrett, A.T., Creasy, R., Rehrer, N.J., Patterson, M.J. and Cotter, J.D., 2012. Effectiveness of short-term heat acclimation for highly trained athletes. European journal of applied physiology, 112(5), pp.1827-1837.
Racinais, S., Alonso, J.M., Coutts, A.J., Flouris, A.D., Girard, O., González‐Alonso, J., Hausswirth, C., Jay, O., Lee, J.K., Mitchell, N. and Nassis, G.P., 2015. Consensus recommendations on training and competing in the heat. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25, pp.6-19.