With less than a month to go until the opening ceremonies at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, there has been much discussion surrounding the environmental conditions that members of Team USA will face as they compete in their respective sports. Conditions are expected to be the hottest on record during this year’s Olympic Games, and efforts are underway to prepare the Team USA athletes.
Recently, Dr. William Adams, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, had the opportunity to assist in preparing some members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) ahead of the Olympic Games as they set out to compete for the gold medal. Using the environmental chamber located within the department’s exercise physiology laboratory, Adams was able to conduct heat acclimation training with the athletes.
Heat acclimation, a technical term describing the process by which the human body improves its thermal tolerance to environmental heat during exercise, allows athletes to become better adapted to perform in these conditions. Athletes experience a reduction in body temperature and heart rate, an increase in sweating efficiency, and more, providing athletes a competitive advantage by enhancing their athletic performance and reducing the risk of exertional heat illness.
Over the course of three weeks, Adams held training sessions for players playing for the local National Women’s Soccer League team, the North Carolina Courage. The players – Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, and Casey Murphy – came to UNC Greensboro over multiple days to exercise in the environmental chamber of the exercise physiology laboratory. The environmental conditions were set at 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% relative humidity, which allows for the increase in body temperature and production of sweat needed to acquire the benefits of heat acclimation.
To make sure that the athlete’s body temperature was elevated to an optimal level (approximately 101 degrees Fahrenheit), the players swallowed an ingestible thermistor, an FDA-approved temperature sensor about the size of a multivitamin that is capable of transmitting an accurate body temperature to a receiver outside of their body. The temperature sensor allows continuous monitoring of body temperature to reach the target threshold of 101 degrees Fahrenheit and serves as a method for monitoring the players’ safety.
With extensive research showing that heat acclimation has profound ergogenic benefits in hot environmental conditions, Adams, along with thousands of people across the nation waiting to cheer on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team when the games are underway, are hopeful that this evidence-based approach to training will be successful in bringing home the gold.
Story by Dr. William Adams, School of Health and Human Sciences
Photography by Grant Evan Gilliard, University Communications and courtesy of Dr. William Adams