Jan 29, 2015
Questions on Pre-Cooling

As temperatures rise, athletic trainers’ concerns regarding exercise in the heat have followed suit. On Tuesday, convention attendees had the opportunity to attend a special topic presentation, “Pre-Cooling for Exercise in the Heat,” led by Brendon McDermott, PhD, ATC, Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas. This session covered findings from 40 studies related to the topic.
“There were three essential questions I covered,” McDermott says. “One was, ‘Does pre-cooling make exercise in the heat feel better?’ The take home message for that question is that, up to an hour, it definitely makes you feel better.

“The second question was, ‘With exercise in the heat, is performance increased when you pre-cool?’ he continues. “And the answer for strength workouts is perhaps not, but for endurance-type exercise lasting between 30 and 60 minutes there is–and beyond that, there’s only a minimal advantage. The last question I had was, ‘Does it actually improve safety?’ And at this point, results are mixed.”

There are many factors that contribute to these findings. “What ends up happening is you feel better, so you push harder,” McDermott says. “But when you work harder, you’re doing more muscular work, which produces more heat. So some studies reported higher core temperatures after athletes had performed with pre-cooling, compared to those who hadn’t.”

With mixed results on the safety spectrum, McDermott would not feel comfortable recommending pre-cooling for some situations. “We often do what makes people feel better because then everybody’s happy,” he says. “But the bigger question is whether it’s safer or causing a safety compromise. If it’s the latter, we’re not creating an advantage for anyone.

“Another question is whether it’s feasible,” McDermott continues. “One pre-cooling method that has been introduced recently is an ice slurry, which is kind of like a slushy. More research is needed on their safety and effectiveness, but they may be one method we’ll hear more about in the future.”

At this point, however, a clear-cut answer on whether or not pre-cooling should be implemented hasn’t been uncovered. “Working in athletics, we have a fine line when it comes to performance, perceptual benefits, and safety,” McDermott says. “We should be making our decision based on what is in the best interest of our student-athletes based on their safety. And with pre-cooling, we’re just not sure if it’s a safety compromise or advantage at this point.”

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