Short-Term Heat Acclimation Training Improves Physical Performance: A Systematic Review, and Exploration of Physiological Adaptations and Application for Team Sports

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Abstract

Background

Studies have demonstrated that longer-term heat acclimation training (≥8 heat exposures) improves physical performance. The physiological adaptations gained through short-term heat acclimation (STHA) training suggest that physical performance can be enhanced within a brief timeframe.

Objective

The aim of this systematic review was to determine if STHA training (≤7 heat exposures) can improve physical performance in healthy adults.

Data Sources

MEDLINE, PubMed, and SPORTDiscus™ databases were searched for available literature.

Study Selection

Studies were included if they met the following criteria: STHA intervention, performance measure outcome, apparently healthy participants, adult participants (≥18 years of age), primary data, and human participants.

Study Appraisal

A modified McMaster critical appraisal tool determined the level of bias in each included study.

Results

Eight papers met the inclusion criteria. Studies varied from having a low to a high risk of bias. The review identified aerobic-based tests of performance benefit from STHA training. Peak anaerobic power efforts have not been demonstrated to improve.

Limitations

At the review level, this systematic review did not include tolerance time exercise tests; however, certain professions may be interested in this type of exercise (e.g. fire-fighters). At the outcome level, the review was limited by the moderate level of bias that exists in the field. Only two randomized controlled trials were included. Furthermore, a limited number of studies could be identified (eight), and only one of these articles focused on women participants.

Conclusions

The review identified that aerobic-based tests of performance benefit from STHA training. This is possibly through a number of cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, and metabolic adaptations improving the perception of effort and fatigue through a reduction in anaerobic energy release and elevation of the anaerobic threshold. These results should be viewed with caution due to the level of available evidence, and the limited number of papers that met the inclusion criteria of the review. STHA training can be applied in the team-sport environment during a range of instances within the competitive season. A mixed high-intensity protocol may only require five sessions with a duration of 60 min to potentially improve aerobic-based performance in trained athletes.

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