Avoid Overheating: Cooling the Neck Can Improve Performance in Hot Conditions

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Dreading the heat during upcoming two-a-days, or already sweating profusely under the summer sun? Recent studies have shown that cooling the neck before exercise in hot, humid conditions can improve athletic performance and capacity.

At the University of Roehampton in London, researchers found that healthy young men could run significantly further during a timed run in a hot laboratory if they used an ice-cold wraparound neck band. Published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the results showed that the neck collars did not, however, lower the athletes' overall body temperatures.

While it is broadly accepted in sports science that an elevated core body temperature can be unsafe if it gets too high, it is simultaneously protective during exercise. The brain signals the muscles to shut down before heatstroke or worse occurs. During a workout, near the critical point of utter exhaustion [body temperatures above 104 degrees], your brain-body connection will tell you that you are unable to continue.

The study concluded that runners who wore the cooling collars could cover more distance because the collars reduced perceived levels of thermal strain. The runners reported feeling no hotter than they did without the collars. Lead author Dr. Christopher James Tyler speculates that the neck collars cool the blood in the neck's carotid artery, which then flows to the brain, lowering cerebral temperature.

So is it okay to trick your brain into thinking your body is cool when your core temperature remains the same or higher?

If you are in shape, competitive and adamant about outperforming everyone, Dr. Tyler cautions that "you need to be aware that this [method] could lead to overexertion." He recommends checking your heart rate at intervals throughout your workout. "If you're exercising at 15 beats per minute more than normal, you might want to slow down," he says. [Want an effective workout this summer? View our 4th Annual STACK Summer Training Guide.]

Ice wraps are available at Polar Products and icewraps.net. If you try the neck-cooling technique, be sure that the ice pack or cold towel is frigid. Also, read up more on heatstroke and other heat illnesses, and be sure to hydrate properly.

Source:  New York Times
Photo:  grandislandblogs.com

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock