Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chill Out

At the scorching-hot South Central Regionals this year, the temperature remained well over 100 degrees for all three days of competition. Even the blacktop on which athletes competed looked like it was going to melt. Ice was a precious commodity. And yet the firebreathers did what they always do: Kick ass and take names.

But is it possible that an ice pack around the neck could've helped to further boost athletic performance?

The answer appears to be yes -- but only up to a point.
According to the New York Times, researchers have found that "cooling the neck before exercise in hot, humid conditions can improve athletic performance." In a recent study, volunteers were recruited to run in a heated room until exhaustion; those who wore cooling collars didn't perceive the heat as much, allowing them to push themselves to run farther before they ran out of gas.

In this experiment, even though the runners’ bodies grew warmer when they wore the collars, their minds weren’t registering that fact, and they reported feeling no hotter than without the collars. Cooling the neck, the authors concluded, had allowed the runners to continue exercising as their core temperatures rose, improving their time to exhaustion “by dampening the perceived levels of thermal strain.”

...[I]t is likely that the collars cooled the blood in the neck’s carotid artery, which then flowed to the brain to produce a “subsequent lowering of cerebral temperature” and convince the brain that the body was cooler than it really was.
As the lead researcher points out, if "you are fit, competitive and ferociously intent on outdoing your training partners," using a cooling collar may help you "improve performance and capacity" in high-heat environments.

But before you rush out to buy a cooling collar before your next summer workout, consider this: You might fool your brain into thinking it's not as hot as it is, but once your body hits a certain temperature, you could very well suffer from heatstroke -- or worse. Being able to perceive your body temperature is a good thing -- it signals your brain to "shut down the muscles before disaster occurs."
In study after study, when the core body temperature of someone who is exercising nears a critical point, usually above 104 degrees, that person’s ability to continue abruptly ends. You feel absolutely exhausted and stop, before heatstroke sets in.
Fooling your brain to gain a competitive edge could backfire disastrously, so use your noggin before you decide to give this hot-weather performance aid a shot.