In the ever-changing world of college football, TCU players will report Saturday for fall drills with no opportunity to experience two-a-day practice sessions with contact. Those were banned in April by the NCAA.
But the timing of each practice is left to the coach’s discretion, with an on-field workout of three hours permitted on the same day as a walk-through session. Horned Frogs’ players know what is coming next in the Texas heat is no picnic, even with the mandated cutback in daily contact opportunities.
The Frogs’ first official fall practice is set for Sunday afternoon. TCU coach Gary Patterson, who grew up on a farm in Rozel, Kan., favors training in the heat of the afternoon and players have been logging lots of workouts around 5 p.m. throughout the summer to prepare themselves for heat indexes in excess of 100 degrees.
“The hottest part of the day, you go work out. And you run a lot in the heat,” linebacker Travin Howard said. “But that’s to get you ready. It’s better for breathing.”
Patterson, who is heading into his 17th season in charge of the TCU football program, can extend his school-record for career victories to 150 with a triumph over Jackson State in the Sept. 2 opener in Fort Worth. Throughout his tenure, Patterson has favored afternoon sessions as a way to give his team a mental and physical edge, particularly in September games.
With two of the Frogs’ first three contests set for 2:30 p.m. kickoffs on Sept. 9 (at Arkansas) and Sept. 16 (SMU), he expects the approach to pay dividends again in 2017. Like his players, Patterson targets his personal summer workouts to unfold in the heat of day.
“I do that so they understand that I’m not going to put them through anything I wouldn’t do myself,” Patterson said. “It comes from the old hay-bailing, growing up on a farm. By the time you got to football practice, you were ready for it because you were acclimated and acclimatized to the situation. So for us, having our kids run and work out in the heat of the day … we get them ready for the heat and they are ready to play in the fourth quarter. We don’t stay out there very long. We start slowly and put them into it. But it helps us.”
Physical exercise in 100-degree heat is a practice that is not ideal for the average person, say experts in kinesiology. In email responses, they acknowledged workouts before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. in the Texas heat is a better starting time in efforts to maximize performance and recovery in most circumstances.
“I would recommend training in cooler weather,” said Sanjay Shrestha, an exercise physiologist at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center Fort Worth. “However, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If trained properly in the heat, your body can create more plasma cells. The increase in blood volume may stimulate your heart and increase overall oxygen capacity of the blood.”
Dawn Emerson, a professor in heath, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas, specializes in thermoregulation during workouts.
“The biggest negative implication for training in the hottest part of the day is that you could be placing someone at risk for an exertional heat stroke,” Emerson said, noting that each individual has a different tolerance level to the situation. She also acknowledged that football teams with games scheduled in the hottest part of the day are wise to prepare for that reality well in advance, as TCU does.
“Training in the environment that someone is expected to perform in does have some mental and physical benefits,” Emerson said. “Heat acclimatization takes about 10 to 14 days and should include a gradual increase in exercise intensity and length. By the end of the acclimatization period, the body’s sweat rate has increased and the cardiovascular system becomes more efficient so the body can better regulate its core temperature.
“Heat acclimatization will go away if the person does not continue to exercise in the heat. If he/she has been out for two or three weeks, then the person will need to reacclimatize.”
Ty Summers, another member of TCU’s heralded linebacker corps, said most of the team’s 5 o’clock summer runs lasted “for about 45 minutes to an hour” and were preceded by weight-lifting sessions. As a morning person, Summers said he frequently did extra drills before noon during the summer before teammates assembled after lunch.
Running back Kyle Hicks said players believe in Patterson’s approach.
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“I trust what Coach P has to tell us. He’s been coaching a long time and he’s a damn good coach,” Hicks said.
As the Frogs prepare for fall camp, they will join other FBS programs in following the NCAA’s new edict of just one contact practice per day that is at least three hours removed from a non-padded, walkthrough session focused on meetings, film reviews and similar non-conditioning activities. The other change for 2017 is that teams can begin their 29 fall practices a week earlier on the NCAA calendar.
Patterson believes his team’s summer workout schedule has the Frogs prepared for a July start to football season.
“Anybody that thinks you can step out on the first day in Texas heat and you didn’t prepare for it, you’re wrong,” Patterson said. “You can’t run in an air-conditioned weight room on the treadmill and think that you’re going to prepare for what’s getting ready to happen.”