If You Can’t Stand the Heat . . .

For the past several days, the outside temperature has moved into triple digits here in Atlanta, so I figured I’d write a little about how to help our junior players stay healthy in the extreme heat.

What is heat-induced cramping?  According to Dr. Scott Riewald, USTA’s Administrator of Sport Science, heat cramps come from dehydration and electrolyte loss that result from sweating.  There are other factors (e.g. anxiety, psychological stresses) that can contribute to heat cramps as well.  The end result is there is a change in the way the nerves communicate with the muscles – the nerves send inappropriate electrical signals to the muscles that cause them to contract or spasm.  The cramps often begin as subtle “twitches” in one or more voluntary muscles and, unless treated quickly, can rapidly progress to widespread debilitating muscle spasms that leave the afflicted player on the court writhing in pain.  If you’ve never experienced this type of cramping yourself or never seen your child go through it, let me just say it’s frightening.  It can cause even the toughest player to scream out in agony.  And, just when one muscle cramp subsides, another can burst onto the scene in a completely different area of the body.

It goes without saying that being fit and well-hydrated are the first steps in preventing heat exhaustion and heat-induced cramping.  But, oftentimes, drinking plain water isn’t sufficient.  According to several scientific articles I’ve read, the real culprit behind cramping is sodium loss, and the only way to prevent it is to take in more sodium than you sweat out.

One case study from March 1996 looked at a 17-year-old, nationally ranked, male tennis player who had been suffering from heat cramps during match play. His medical history and previous physical exams were normal, and his blood work showed normal levels of all minerals and nutrients.  On-court evaluation and an analysis of a 3-day food journal showed that his sweat rate was extensive and that his potential daily on-court sweat sodium losses could easily overtake his average daily intake of sodium. The combined effects of excessive and repeated fluid and sodium losses predisposed him to heat cramps during his matches.  The good news is that he was ultimately able to eliminate heat cramps during competition and training by increasing his daily dietary intake of sodium.

Another study from 2003 shows that “although a variety of other mineral deficiencies and physiological conditions are purported to cause muscle cramps, evidence suggests that, when a tennis player cramps in warm to hot weather, extensive and repeated sweating during the current and previous matches and a consequent sodium deficit are usually the primary contributing factors.”

Contrary to popular belief (even by the pros), bananas are NOT the cure for cramping.  Yes, bananas are high in potassium, but they are not high in sodium which is the mineral responsible for keeping heat cramps at bay.  Therefore, sports nutritionists agree that taking a salty snack – such as pretzels – on court to eat IN MODERATION during changeovers is a great preventive tactic.

Also, drinking a sports beverage high in sodium and other electrolytes – such as Gatorade, PowerAde, or Pedialyte – can help replenish sodium as it’s sweated out of the body.  The key is to drink enough fluids (minimum 2 ounces every 15 minutes during practices and/or at changeovers) to prevent excessive salt and fluid loss.  The best way to gauge fluid intake and loss is to weigh yourself immediately before stepping foot on the court then again immediately after play – any change in weight will be due to fluid loss and should be replenished immediately at the rate of 16 ounces of fluids for each pound lost.

According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the prevention and the cure for heat cramps is salt plus fluids.  Please note that Pedialyte contains almost twice the amount of sodium as Gatorade which contains almost twice the amount of sodium as PowerAde, so to increase the sodium content of either Gatorade or PowerAde, just add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt per 8 ounces to ensure adequate sodium intake.

If your child has taken the proper precautions and still cramps either during or after a match, move him to a cooler environment and get him to drink at least 8 ounces of a high-sodium sports beverage right away.  Usually heat-related cramps go away on their own once the athlete has cooled down and taken in enough fluids and salt.  But, if the cramps become worse or if your child begins vomiting or develops dizziness and shortness of breath, get him immediate medical treatment.

If you or your child have ever experience cramping, please share your experience and the steps you’ve taken to prevent a recurrence in the Comments box below.

How To Find A Qualified Fitness Trainer

Today’s article was contributed by our friends at the International Tennis Performance AssociationResearch continues to support the need for outside fitness training for athletes, especially those who are specializing in one sport and one sport only.  While there is an on-going debate regarding the “right” age to start training, the consensus is that junior athletes need to do work in the gym each week in order to keep their growing bodies in balance.  When you have time, be sure to look at ITPA’s website, blog, and Facebook page for more information regarding tennis-specific certifications for fitness trainers and coaches looking to have a better understanding of all the physical aspects of tennis.  

Finding certified, competent, qualified fitness trainers to work with your tennis-playing child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a tennis parent. Finding the right fitness trainer (also called a tennis performance specialist) could be the difference between the success or failure of your child as he or she develops through the tournament tennis journey. These individuals may have a background as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer or physical trainer, but the most important component that they need to have is an understanding of the sport of tennis and also an understanding of growth and development issues as children progress through pre-puberty, during puberty and post-puberty.

When interviewing potential tennis performance specialists, it is important to take into account the following major areas:

Work Experience And Area Of Specialization

Ask how many years of experience the individual has working with athletes, but specifically working with tennis athletes. There are many great professionals who do not have tennis experience, but with the right education could become great tennis performance specialists because they have a strong background training athletes in other sports. Do they have experience working with young athletes at different stages of puberty?  Do they have appropriate certifications? In the fitness industry, many certifications exist. Some are very good, while others are very limited. In general the base certifications include the following major organizations (in no specific order):

National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

International Fitness Professional Association (IFPA)

National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

All these organizations have different goals and objectives in their certification programs. The NSCA is aimed at certifying individuals who will predominantly train athletes. ACSM is an organization focused on education and training for individuals who will be working with the general population and major or minor chronic diseases. The other organizations fall along a spectrum between these two industry leading associations.

Although all these organizations provide a good base certification for a personal trainer, they do not go into the specifics needed to train tennis athletes. The International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA) has the only internationally-recognized tennis-specific performance enhancement and injury prevention certification. The educational program involves a tennis-focused curriculum which assesses an individual’s knowledge in 20 tennis-specific competencies framed in three broad areas:

1)       Tennis-specific performance enhancement

2)       Tennis-specific injury prevention

3)       Tennis-specific leadership/communication

Education

While a base fitness certification from one of the organizations listed above is vital, it is also important to look for an individual with a college degree in exercise science (kinesiology) or a related field. A master’s degree is definitely a bonus. This lets you know that your future hire has a solid educational foundation in exercise program design.

Ask For References

Ask the individual for names, phone numbers and even testimonials of other clients he/she has worked with, particularly those who share similar traits and goals. If available, call previous clients to see if they were satisfied with their training experience and results. Inquire whether the individual was professional, punctual and prepared, and performed a very high level of service.

Talk To The Tennis Performance Specialist

Developing a personal, yet professional relationship with your tennis performance specialist is very important. Trust your instincts. Ask yourself if you think you could get along well with the trainer personality wise, but also from a philosophy and training standpoint. It is important that the communication between the tennis performance specialist and the tennis parent is outstanding. The physical training of a tennis player is not an isolated occurrence. The work that occurs during training sessions carries over onto the court and seamless integration among the parent, coach and tennis performance specialist is paramount to success.

Summary

Hiring a competent tennis performance specialist to work on all aspects of physical training for your tennis playing child (or children) is important and requires an appropriate vetting process. Spending time making sure that the person has the right background to work with young tennis players is a very important decision and hopefully this article has provided some simple tips to help you make a great choice when deciding on your tennis performance specialist.