Can Head Cooling Increase Aerobic Performance In The Heat?

dumping water over his head

A Review by Alyssa Bialowas

Thermoregulation and managing heat stress is critical for aerobic and anaerobic athletes that complete in hot and dry conditions. Competing in such conditions can diminish physical performance, and athletes tolerate varying levels of temperature exposure. Various cooling methods have been employed to address rising body temperatures and thermal stress. 

The objective of this study was to determine if a certain amount of time participating in head cooling applied between bouts of aerobic exercise in hot conditions could influence a person’s peak power output (PP) on maximal effort.

The Study

Twenty-two recreationally active men between the ages of 18 to 23 agreed to participate in this study. The subjects completed three performance trials over a 21-day period. In their initial trial, participants completed a maximal effort GXT on a cycle ergometer to establish maximal baseline performance. Oxygen consumption (VO2 max), heart rate, rectal temperatures, and peak power output were all measured.

The second and third trial were counterbalanced and consisted of a placebo condition and a cooling condition. During both the second and third trial, participants were asked to cycle for 40 minutes at 65% of their max VO2 in hot and dry conditions. After the initial 40 minutes, participants were given 7 minutes of recovery in which they cooled their head during the cooling condition and withheld cooling during the placebo condition.

Participants completed another max effort GXT to test VO2 max, heart rate, and peak power output.

The Results

The results from the study show that peak power output was lower during both placebo and cooling conditions as compared to the subjects’ baseline testing. The decline in VO2 peak was not different between placebo and cooling. The results of this study indicate that head cooling is an effective means of increasing aerobic performance in hot conditions, but not capacity. Cooling the head as opposed to anatomical sites near large muscles can reduce central factors of fatigue without affecting localized muscles temperature.

Takeaway

Thermoregulation is a critical performance variable that alters aerobic and anaerobic performance. Performing in the heat can increase heat stress in athletes, and the study demonstrated that seven minutes of intermittent head cooling positively affects aerobic performance. Head cooling should be used as a tool to decrease heat stress in athletes prior to and during competition. 

Related Article: Can A Hot HIIT Session Induce Heat Acclimation For Athletes?

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Reference

Azadian, A., Edgren, S., Libby, K., Hunt, B., Sorenson, E., Tannous, D., & Thom, N.

“The Effect of Intermittent Head Cooling on Aerobic Performance in the Heat.”

Journal of Sport Science and Medicine, 16, 77-83.

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