Background: Pre-cooling has been shown to enhance performance in repeated sprint exercise in able-bodied subjects in a hot environment. Spinal cord injury causes thermoregulatory impairment with a detrimental effect on performance. This study assessed whether cooling strategies prior to and during exercise in the heat enhances sprint performance in tetraplegic athletes.
Methods: Eight male tetraplegic athletes performed arm crank intermittent exercise in the heat (32.0 ± 0.1°C, humidity 50 ± 0.1%) for a maximum of 60 min or until exhaustion. Trials involved a no cooling control (CON), pre-cooling (PRE) or cooling during exercise (DUR). Each intermittent sprint protocol consisted of varied periods of passive rest, maximal sprinting and active recovery.
Results: Both PRE and DUR cooling strategies improved the ability of the athletes to repeatedly perform high intensity sprints, with times to exhaustion (TTE) of 47.2 ±10.8 and 52.8 ±5.8 min respectively (P < 0.05). During the CON trial athletes demonstrated a reduction in the total number of sprints they were able to perform (18.13 ± 4.8 sprints; 36.2 ±9.6 min). Core temperature was significantly higher for CON (37.3 ± 0.3°C) when compared to both PRE and DUR (36.5 ± 0.6°C and 37.0 ± 0.5°C respectively; P < 0.01). Ratings of perceived exertion and thermal sensation upon exhaustion or completion were not different.
Conclusions: Tetraplegic athletes should use a pre-cooling or during exercise cooling strategy when performing intermittent sprint exercise in hot conditions to improve performance.
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