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This study aimed to assess the relationship between body temperature responses to water immersion and individual perception of recovery, with subsequent exercise performance.
12 male rugby players participated in a 3 week cross-over trial where an intense 60 min conditioning session (high-intensity gym and track-based conditioning session which they consistently rated 5 on a 1–5 Likert scale, where 5 was represented by the anchor point ‘Extremely Hard’. Maximal heart rate assessed during the conditioning session ranged from 171 to 204 beats/min) was followed immediately by 15 min of either
- 14°C Cold Water Immersion (CWI) (level of the anterior superior iliac spine). They were then removed, seated and rested at room temperature (20°C) for 60 min. Core body temperature was recorded at the 0, 30 and 60 min postintervention time points.
- 30°C warm-water immersion (WWI) The intervention was replicated.
- passive control (CON) recovery intervention. They where seated 15 min + 60 min.
Postexercise body temperatures and subjective ratings of the recovery intervention were recorded and subsequently related to performance in a 5×40 m repeated maximal running sprints protocol undertaken 24 h later.
CWI induced large reductions in core body temperature post immersion and improved subsequent sprint performance compared to WWI and CON. Both the degree of temperature decrease at 60 min postimmersion and the subjective rating of the recovery intervention were related to subsequent sprint performance.
When the correlation between performance maintenance and the percentage decrease in core body temperature was calculated, a large linear relationship. Interestingly, a large linear correlation was also found between the subjective player ratings of the recovery interventions and performance maintenance
When a combined index of player perception and body temperature decrease plotted against subsequent sprint performance, a very large linear relationship was apparent.
We report here that the psychological perception of recovery, combined with the measured decrease in core body temperature as a result of CWI in well-trained rugby union players following an intense conditioning session, was strongly related to ‘training recovery’ as assessed by subsequent performance in a repeated 40 m sprint protocol.
3 important points are raised here in an attempt to address issues that have previously been high-lighted in studies of recovery.
- 1 First, the participants were well trained, as it is intuitive that untrained or recreationally trained participants will have markedly different physiological and psychological responses to novel exercise protocols in terms of coping with aspects of fatigue and muscle damage.
- 2 the protocol used to induce fatigue and muscle damage was dynamic and sport-specific, without the predominance of eccentric contractions commonly used to assess functional, physiological and subjective perceptions of recovery.
- 3, a reliable and ecologically valid performance measure was used to assess recovery rather than biochemical markers, as improvement in these markers are of little practical importance to athletes if performance itself is not improved.
In addition, the participants were all male as variable responses to CWI protocols may be due to a suggested gender difference. In fact, two prior reports that have found no performance benefit when utilising CWI have included only female participants.
Despite the widespread use of CWI as a recovery strategy in athletes the physiological rationale behind its use has been questioned and performance benefits have not been consistently demonstrated. CWI is well known to rapidly decrease body temperature and this effect is prolonged after immersion is discontinued. Thus, our physiological data are in accordance with the reported literature.
In addition to acutely reducing body temperature, mechanisms suggested to enhance recovery as a result of CWI include: a reduction of oedema formation; minimising inflammation; stabilising creatine kinase activity; accelerating parasympathetic activation and altering peripheral vasoconstriction and limb blood flow.
The study by Vaile et al that demonstrated a decrease in limb flow, resulting from 15 min CWI, also reported a negative correlation between the ensuing decrease in rectal temperature and performance in a 35 -min cycling performance test. In our trial, a positive correlation was observed between the percentage decrease in core body temperature and subsequent repeated sprint performance.
The discrepancy in these results could be explained by a number of factors.
A combination of physiological and psychological indices provides an improved indication of subsequent performance and suggests an important role of individual perception in enhancing training recovery.
What are the new findings?
- ▸ The magnitude of the core body temperature decrease following cold-water immersion (CWI) was related to subsequent repeated sprint performance.
- ▸ The subjective perception of recovery following CWI is related to subsequent repeated sprint performance.