The lowdown on warm weather training

Olympian Colin Griffin walks us through the benefits and otherwise of warm weather camps.

ELITE ATHLETES, PROFESSIONAL athletes, professional sports teams and national squads have long been advocates of warm weather winter training camps, the benefits of which range from physical and mental improvement to improved morale in the individual or team environment.

This can – though not always – lead to better performances in competition, so it’s no surprise to see amateurs opting to train overseas in the off-season, or in advance of the upcoming season.

Two-time Olympic race-walker and Director of Altitude Centre Ireland Colin Griffin has been on many warm weather camps in his career and we took him to task on some of the more pertinent issues.

Aside from just being more pleasant than training in cold, wet weather, does training in the heat provide any physiological benefit, if so, how?

Griffin: “Yes, there has been some strong evidence of physiological benefits following a period of heat training. Depending on temperatures, the heat is a stress and makes training more challenging. Blood becomes thicker and the heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood to working muscles. The body adapts to that by increasing plasma volume and makes a given workload in cooler conditions a little easier. “

Is it better or worse, or how does it compare to high altitude training? Are they completely different concepts?

Griffin: “Two different concepts and different mechanisms at work, but both stress the body causing it to adapt and improving sea-level/cooler climate performance. In fact there is good evidence for combining a period of altitude training with a subsequent period of warm-weather training to prepare for competition. You increase red blood cell mass at altitude, increase plasma volume in heat and the two combined adaptations can maximise performance gains in cooler sea-level conditions.”

What kind of things should you bear in mind before booking a winter training camp

Griffin: “Important to pre-plan if going to a particular location for the first time. Talk to athletes who’ve been there before and have some research done on training routes, terrain, accommodation food and other logistics. Try and plan your travel to be as efficient as possible. If going from cool winter conditions to hot conditions it will be a stress on the body as it tries to acclimatise, so have a hydration plan in place and be prepared to adjust training for the first 3-4 days. And bring some sunscreen!

Can you train more, or less, in the heat?

Griffin: “I would not look to train more in heat as the heat itself is an extra stress that the body has to cope with. Depending on severity of heat, I would allow a few days for acclimatisation. It would use the time to get extra recovery and some mental relaxation that you may not get at home.”

Colin Griffin Colin Griffin: been there, done that. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Is there a fear of it turning into more of a holiday than a training camp?

Griffin: “It depends on the athletes and their level experience and maturity. Most athletes are likely self-funding the camp and are keen to get the most out of it and not waste the opportunity.”

On the flipside, is there a danger of overdoing it?

Griffin: “Yes. That is a big danger. Particularly athletes who work at home and find themselves with extra time on their hands and perhaps nobody to monitor and control things. As I said, it is better to use the extra time for extra rest and recovery and some headspace that you may not get at home.”

How does humidity affect your performance?

Griffin: “It has a big effect on performance. You sweat and dehydrate more depending on your genetics and level of conditioning. Training quality will be affected as metabolic rate and cardiac output increases initially until body has acclimatised. The body may never fully acclimatise so don’t expect to get a PB if racing in those conditions. Work to acclimatise well and limit your performance decrement.”

Should you train in the hottest part of the day if the sun is good for you? If not, when should you train?

Griffin: “If the athlete (or coach) knows what they are doing it can be beneficial to do the occasional session during hottest part of day, but only if you can maintain some good degree of training quality and temperatures are not overly severe. Otherwise it is better to train earlier in the day and later in the evening so as not to over stress the body particularly if doing high volume training.”

If you can’t get away for a warm weather camp, will it do to sit in a sauna or steam room to mimic the temperatures?

Griffin: “It is better than nothing and will have some adaptive effect. Obviously if you were preparing for a competition in hot climates and cannot get away for some warm-weather acclimatisation, then doing some sauna and steam room work will help the body cope with those conditions. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of athletes successfully utilising this method.”