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Specialised heat chamber at UC prepares student athletes for World University Games

Elly Mackay

20 July 2023: Two University of Canberra students are preparing to compete at the Summer FISU World University Games in the coming weeks by training in a specialised environmental chamber at the University’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UC RISE).

On 28 July, Mitchell Baker and Timothy Fraser will head to the Games in Chengdu, China to compete in race walking, representing both Australia and the University of Canberra.

The environmental chamber can generate temperatures of up to 50°C and relative humidity of up to 90 per cent.

Working with a 36°C setting in the chamber, allows Mr Baker and Mr Fraser to train in an environment similar to the temperatures and humidity expected in Chengdu next week.

This is particularly important given both athletes live and train in Canberra’s currently cold climate, and acclimatising can help improve performance and wellbeing, according to UC RISE Deputy Director Brad Clark.

“For athletes that live and train in Canberra, particularly in winter – it was -6°C this morning – that obviously doesn’t prepare them very well for when they’re going into the Northern Hemisphere to compete,” Dr Clark said.

“The main benefits that athletes will find, having done some heat acclimation sessions here, is that they are better prepared physiologically – and even psychologically – for competition in those conditions.”

July and August are the hottest and wettest months of the year in Chengdu, with an average maximum temperature of 30°C and temperatures in 2023 forecast to reach up to 35°C.

Mr Fraser, who will compete in the 20km race walk event, said the benefits of the chamber are massive – both physically and mentally.

“If there’s any physiological benefit – but also the mental benefit of knowing we can walk and race in temperatures like this and not just collapse – that’s a bonus,” he said.

“Jumping in there [the heat chamber] your hands immediately start getting a bit sweaty – it’s similar to some of the hotter summers we get here in Canberra, and jumping in there during the winter is definitely a bit rough. It does shock the body.”

Mr Baker – the recipient of a 2023 Eldon and Anne Foote Elite Athlete Scholarship – agreed that the chamber can provide benefits in the lead-up to competition.

“It’s really great to have this here at UC – I’ve struggled a lot in the past with heat while competing, especially with humidity,” he said.

“When you’re in the race and sweating like that, it can be very tough mentally, so it’s good to get used to those conditions.”

Mr Baker and Mr Fraser will be joined at the Games by University of Canberra Director of Sport Carrie Graf, who will lead the Australian UniRoos delegation as Chef de Mission.

It’s her second time attending the Games in an official capacity, following her time as Head Coach of the gold medal-winning Australian Women’s basketball team at the 2007 World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand.

“UC is a member of UniSport Australia – and this event is on par with a mini-Olympics. At Chengdu they’re expecting over 120 countries, so it’s a massive sporting event,” Ms Graf said.

The 2023 FISU World University Games will run for 12 days and see more than 10,000 student athletes and officials attend and compete. It will be broadcast to more than 100 countries and is expected to draw over 300 million viewers.

Mr Baker and Mr Fraser will compete on 5 August, and a live-stream of the event can be viewed here.