Tips for safe exercise and sports in extreme heat

Temperatures in Charleston and across the United States have reached dangerously high levels this summer. As football and other school sports start training and recreation and competitive youth and adult teams enter months of frequent competition, knowing how to train safely in this heat is critical to avoid heat illness.

This post is a summary of recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Red Cross, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. While some of the tips might be specific to a particular age group, the concepts are applicable to all athletes training and competing in hot, humid weather. Tweet these tips.

Get acclimated. Take 10-14 days and gradually increase training in the heat to prepare for the first full practice or competition. Likewise, work to improve your cardiovascular fitness in the months prior to the start of the season to better prepare your body for the heat.

Schedule cooler times of the day for practice. If possible, exercise or practice early in the morning or in the evening rather than the middle of the day.

Wear proper clothing. Choose lightweight, light-colored, and breathable clothing.

Try to decrease the amount of equipment worn in practice. For example, football teams might practice without pads during extremely hot conditions.

Pace yourself in every practice. Start each session slowly and gradually increase intensity.

Exercise or practice with a partner. Watch each other for signs and symptoms of heat illness and get medical assistance immediately if needed.

Avoid or limit exercise and training if you are recovering from a recent illness. Some illness, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, can cause dehydration and adversely affect body temperature regulation.

Stay hydrated. Drink adequate water or sports drinks before, during, and after practice or exercise.

Add electrolytes to hydration for longer sessions. If you are training for over an hour or multiple times in a day, consider drinking a sports drink with electrolytes, especially sodium, to properly rehydrate.

Avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol.

Weigh yourself before and after practice or competition. Body weight measurements provide a good assessment of whether you are keeping up with fluid loss through sweat.

Take longer, more frequent breaks. If possible, aim for 20 minutes of rest for every hour of training. Try to take breaks in the shade or inside if possible.

Ensure adequate rest for two-a-days. If training multiple times in a day, have at least 2 hours between sessions for rest and rehydration.

Educate athletes, coaches, and parents. Understanding heat illness and strategies to prevent athletes from experiencing heat-related injuries is much safer than treating the injuries after they occur.

Have medical supervision, if possible. Have athletic trainers, paramedics, or other medical professionals trained in heat illness available on site for team practices or competitions. Make sure that the staff at each facility has an action plan for contacting emergency services if an athlete develops heat illness. This plan should be in place before the practices or competitions start.

Remove a player from training or competition for any sign of heat illness. The following list is just a few of the signs of which an athlete could be developing heat illness: decreased performance, mental status or personality changes, flushing, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, headaches, feeling very hot or cold. If any of these signs or other changes in status are present, remove the player and start treatment.

For more information on the signs of the various forms of heat illness and treatment steps, please read the heat illness topic in the Sports Injury Locator.

Do you have any other suggestions? Share them here!

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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