The environment, equipment and intensity can place athletes at risk of heat illness. Heat illnesses represent conditions resulting from heat stress, which can be imposed by a number of factors but usually result from the environment or the body creating this heat load itself. Heat illnesses can range from minor to severe, and in particular, exertional heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency.

heat acclimatization

Use the model below to get players acclimated to the heat.

The following are important for understanding the heat acclimatization model:
  • Use good judgment. The times listed below are maximum practice times as you acclimate to the heat. Conditions may warrant shorter practice times and intensity.
  • Practice is defined as time on the football field (including warm-up, stretching, break time, cool down and any conditioning time), and it should never exceed three hours.
  • During the first five days, practices should be limited to two hours.
  • A walkthrough is defined as time dedicated to reviewing plays and field positions and should not exceed one hour.
  • Heat acclimatization days should be continuous if possible, meaning few days off. However, if your practice schedule is only a few days a week, then remember that the days between your practices (the days off) do not count toward acclimatization days. It will take longer to acclimatize in situations such as this.

Practice Days 1-2

  • Practices permitted per day:
  • Equipment:
    Helmets only
  • Max duration of single practice session:
    2 hours
  • Permitted walkthrough time (not included as practice time):
    1 hour (but must be separated from practice for 3 continuous hours)
  • Contact:
    No contact

Practice Days 3-5

  • Practices permitted per day:
  • Equipment:
    Helmets and shoulder pads
  • Max duration of single practice session:
    3 hours
  • Permitted walkthrough time (not included as practice time):
    1 hour (but must be separated from practice for 3 continuous hours)
  • Contact:
    Contact only with blocking sleds/dummies

Practice Days 6-14

  • Practices permitted per day:
    2, only every other day
  • Equipment:
    Full equipment
  • Max duration of single practice session:
    3 hours (a total maximum of 5 hours on double session days)
  • Permitted walkthrough time (not included as practice time):
    1 hour (but must be separated from practice for 3 continuous hours)
  • Contact:
    Full, 100% live contact


Learn what fluids are best for hydration and when to drink them.

Fluids for hydration

Sports drinks contain electrolytes, sugar and water, which give athletes important nutrients during exercise. While water is appropriate during all types of exercise, sports drinks are recommended for use during intense exercise that is greater than 60 minutes or during intense exercise in the heat.

When athletes should hydrate

  • Before Exercise
    Before Exercise

    Hydrate with 16-24 ounces of water or a sports drink.

  • During Exercise
    During Exercise

    Have unlimited access to water during exercise/activity.

    Be able to drink as much as they want.

    Be able to drink for the entire break period if they wish.

    Access to sports drinks when exercise is greater than 60 minutes or if exercise is going to be intense and in the heat. To achieve this, it’s recommended that all exercise sessions should have predetermined breaks approximately every 15 minutes. The timing and length of breaks should be dependent on the environmental conditions. While athletes may be encouraged or even required to bring their own fluids, as a coach, always make sure extra fluids are available for those who have forgotten or need to refill their water bottles.

Recognition & Treatment

Recognize the signs, find out the causes and learn to treat various exertional heat illnesses.




    The inability to continue exercise in the heat from either weakness or exhaustion.

    May feel hot, tired, sweating a lot, weak, dizzy and don’t feel able to continue exercise.


    Excessive fluid losses or electrolyte losses.

    Dehydration causes less blood to be available for the working muscles and the skin to give off heat.

    1. Remove the athlete from activity and put them in a shaded/cool area.
    2. Lay the athletes on the ground and raise their legs about 12 inches.
    3. Replenish lost fluids.
    4. Moderate cooling methods such as ice towels, misting fans, or cold water immersion.
  • HEAT Cramps

    HEAT Cramps


    Painful, localized muscle cramps and may feel like they are "wandering" throughout the cramping muscle.

    Usually visible, and the muscle will feel hard.


    Combination of fatigue, dehydration and electrolyte losses through sweat.

    Lack of heat acclimatization and poor fitness.

    1. Rehydration with water and sport drinks.
    2. Some light stretching or massage with ice on the cramping muscle.
  • HEAT Syncope

    HEAT Syncope


    Refers to a fainting or lightheadedness episode.


    Lack of heat acclimatization and poor fitness.

    Blood pools in the lower extremities reducing the heart's ability to provide enough circulation.

    1. Lay the athlete on the ground and raise their legs about 12 inches.
    2. This helps blood go back to the heart to normalize blood pressure.

If an athlete needs to go to the hospital, have him or her cool before transporting.

Rapid cooling on-site while waiting for transport to the hospital is the key to survival during an exertional heat stroke without medical staff on site.


Ways to help prevent the occurrence of various exertional heat illnesses.

Have athletes undergo a period of heat acclimatization Encourage athletes to arrive at practice hydrated Allow athletes unlimited access to hydration during activity
Modify practice when environmental conditions become extreme

(allowing additional rest/hydration breaks, reducing the intensity of practice, reducing the time of practice and reducing the equipment worn during practice)

Practice at an intensity that is appropriate for the fitness level Encourage athletes to speak up when not feeling well - create a culture where this is considered smart

Water Break Timer

Set reminders for water breaks to help keep players properly hydrated.

Coming soon to USA Football's app.
Water Break
Free for IOS and Android

Fundamentals & fitting

Reducing helmet-to-helmet contact and ensuring equipment is properly fitted advances player health and safety.

Learn Heads Up Tackling℠ techniques. Learn about equipment fitting.