By: Brett Walker, PT, ATC, SCS, CSCS, Assistant Athletic Trainer, Chicago White Sox
As baseball season approaches, we think about moving from the warm weather of the Cactus League to the stiff, cold wind that blows off Lake Michigan in Chicago. April baseball in the Windy City presents us with added challenges for maintaining the health of our athletes. Having a cold weather plan in place to limit the effects of frigid temperatures is imperative to reduce modifiable risk in athletes.
Wearing proper clothing is an essential part of any cold weather plan. There are three layers that help keep the body warm in cold temperatures.
- Base Layer: The base layer is usually made of merino wool or synthetics and must be moisture wicking.
- Mid Layer: The mid layer is usually soft and pliable while providing some wind and rain resistance. The mid layer could be polyester fleece or wool and able to transfer moisture to the air. This layer can also be the primary insulation or outer layer.
- Outer Layer: The outer layer or shell should not be worn during competitive play and only donned during rest periods.1,2
Appropriate headgear should also be considered when developing a cold weather plan. Heat loss from the head trails only the chest, abdomen and thighs.3 Wet clothes may increase heat loss by two times in comparison to a dry environment.1,5 Layers and vents in the clothing are important as they prevent sweating and thus a wet environment where heat is lost at a quicker pace.
Keeping the feet warm is another aspect that should not be overlooked. It is recommended that athletes wear shoes one size larger than they normally would. It is important the layers on the legs and the socks don’t create too much compression as it may impede blood flow and cause the feet to be more at risk for cold-related injury.4
Aside from clothing, there are other things that should be considered as part of a cold weather plan. This includes heaters, personal hand and toe warmers, emollients, nutrition, fluids and acclimatization. In Chicago, we use large gas heaters and heated seats for players between innings. We have athletes who use emollients, such as petroleum jelly. However, the effects of petroleum jelly may give the athletes a false sense of security as it does not lower the risk of frostbite.1
It is difficult to factor in acclimatization during spring training because of the warm climates. Ultimately, it is important to know that exposure to long periods of moderately cold weather on consecutive days over two weeks will allow for acclimatization.1 However, that may only decrease discomfort and increase skin temperature, while not actually preventing environmental injuries.1,5 There are many challenges that we face in preparing our athletes to perform at their highest level in a cold environment. The most important thing to provide is a well-thought-out plan for dealing with the elements.
- Castellani, J. W., Young, A. J., Ducharme, M. B., Giesbrecht, G. G., Glickman, E., Sallis, R. E., American College of Sports Medicine. (2006, November). American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. http://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000241641.75101.64
- McMahon, J. A., & Howe, A. (2012). Cold weather issues in sideline and event management. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(3), 135–141. http://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e3182578783
- Wang, L., Yin, H., Di, Y., Liu, Y., & Liu, J. (2016). Human local and total heat losses in different temperature. Physiology & Behavior, 157, 270–276. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.02.018
- Fudge, J. (2016). Exercise in the Cold. Sports Health, 8(2), 133–139. http://doi. org/10.1177/1941738116630542
- Castellani, J. W., & Young, A. J. (2012). Health and performance challenges during sports training and competition in cold weather. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(11), 788–791. http://doi. org/10.1136/bjsports-2012-091260