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Heating Up to Keep Cool: Benefits and Persistence of a Practical Heat Acclimation Protocol in Elite Female Olympic Team-Sport Athletes

PURPOSE: Although recommendations for effective heat acclimation (HA) strategies for many circumstances exist, best-practice HA protocols specific to elite female team-sport athletes are yet to be established. Therefore, the authors aimed to investigate the effectiveness and retention of a passive HA protocol integrated in a female Olympic rugby sevens team training program. METHODS: Twelve elite female rugby sevens athletes undertook 10 days of passive HA across 2 training weeks. Tympanic temperature (TTymp), sweat loss, heart rate, and repeated 6-second cycling sprint performance were assessed using a sport-specific heat stress test Pre-HA, after 3 days (Mid-HA), after 10 days (Post-HA), and 15 days post-HA (Decay). RESULTS: Compared with Pre-HA, submaximal TTymp was lower Mid-HA and Post-HA (both by -0.2 [0.7] °C; d ≥ 0.71), while resting TTymp was lower Post-HA (by -0.3 [0.2] °C; d = 0.81). There were no differences in TTymp at Decay compared with Pre-HA, nor were there any differences in heart rate or sweat loss at any time points. Mean peak 6-second power output improved Mid-HA and Post-HA (76 [36] W; 75 [34] W, respectively; d ≥ 0.45) compared with Pre-HA. The observed performance improvement persisted at Decay by 65 (45) W (d = 0.41). CONCLUSIONS: Ten days of passive HA can elicit some thermoregulatory and performance benefits when integrated into a training program in elite female team-sport athletes. However, such a protocol does not provide a sufficient thermal impulse for thermoregulatory adaptations to be retained after 15 days with no further heat stimulus.
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This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. © 2023 Human Kinetic.