Perform better in the heat by reducing heat stress before, during, and after training. With temperatures nearing 95 degrees at the Poliquin Strength Institute and high summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, you need some strategies for cooling off so that you can still compete and train at your best.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that for highly trained athletes, using recovery baths in between multiple competitions in the heat can improve performance during a second and third exercise trial. Although results were not dramatic, both a cold water bath and a cold-then-hot water bath allowed rugby players to perform better and minimize residual stress. The cold water immersion was performed twice for 5 minutes at 50°F and a cold-hot immersion was done for five cycles of 60 seconds each in water at 50°F and then 100°F.
Results showed that both water baths resulted in better recovery and higher performance on the second and third all-out sprint tests than a control group experienced that did passive recovery. Performance was improved by 2 to 6 from the recovery baths. It’s likely that the impact of hydrotherapy on recovery was minimal because it was not performed for long enough—other studies show there is a dose response effect to cooling and recovery.
For example, a previous study showed that recovery is accelerated with a cold water bath for at least 15 minutes at 50°F (12 minutes is too short, and 59 °F is too warm). A cold-then-hot bath protocol should be at 50°F followed by 108°F, each for 90 seconds for a total of 15 minutes. Also, a cold water bath is most effective at restoring maximal strength and power, whereas a contrast bath of cold followed by hot water restores all-out sprint ability faster. Twenty-four hours after the exercise test, the hydrotherapy groups in this study had better power performance than a passive recovery or a group that used temperate water.
Other cooling and recovery methods that have shown to boost performance include the following:
• A total-body immersion in cold water (head is out of the water) is most effective for cooling core temperature and restoring cardiovascular capabilities to normal levels.
• Immersion of the feet and hands in ice buckets is also very effective and more practical.
• Cooling in a shaded area such as a tent, pavilion or shade is ineffective unless paired with some other cooling method such as drinking cold water before and after intense exercise in the heat.
• A review in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism notes that ingesting cold beverages can ease thermal stress and improve performance by as much as 10 percent.
• Forearm immersion in cold water can also speed recovery from thermal stress. A study of firefighters experiencing significant heat stress from intense exercise found that cooling the forearms in cold water for 60 minutes effectively lowered core temperature to near baseline. Cooling in 50°F water was most effective, followed by using 68°F water. Be aware that it is necessary to immerse the whole forearm, not just the hands for the best body-cooling effect.
Higgins, T., Cameron, M., et al. Evaluation of Passive Recovery, Cold Water Immersion, and Contrast Baths for Recovery, as Measured by Game Performances Markers between Two Simulated Games of Rugby Union. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.
Burdon, C., O’Connor, H., Gifford, J., Shirreffs, S. Influence of Beverage Temperature on Exercise Performance in the Heat: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2010. 20(2), 166-174.
Biesbrecht, G., Jamieson, C., Cahill, F. Cooling Hyperthermic Firefighters by Immersing Forearms and Hands in 10 Degrees C and 20 Degrees C Water. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 2007. 78(6), 561-567.
DeMartini, J., Ranalli, G., Casa, D., Lopez, R., Ganio, M., Stearns, R., McDermott, B., Armstrong, L., Maresh, C. Comparison of Body Cooling Methods on Physiological and Perceptual Measures of Mildly Hyperthermic Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(8), 2065-2074.
Pournot, H., Bieuzen, F., Lepetre, P., Duffield, R., Cozzoline, C., Hausswirth, C. Short Term Effects of Various Water Immersions on Recover from Exhaustive Intermittent Exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111(7), 1287-1295.