Ice vests for athletic performance

| Comments (3) | Sports
Science has an interesting article about the effect of cooling vests on athletic performance. It's clear that overheating has a major negative effect on performance, so the logic here is that if you cool off before competition you'll take longer to overheat:
Since the 1970s, numerous studies have shown that precooling can dramatically affect some measures of athletic output. A 1995 study of 14 male runners found that if they were first chilled for 30 minutes in a chamber at 5°C, they could run on a treadmill at a certain level of exertion for an average of 26.4 minutes, a whopping 3.8 minutes longer than they averaged otherwise.

Olympic events are typically races over fixed distances, however, and the few studies of race times show much smaller improvements. In 2005, BYU's Hunter and colleagues studied 18 female cross-country runners, who had ingested encapsulated thermometers, as they participated in 4- and 5-kilometer races. Some wore ice vests for an hour before their race, and, on average, their core body temperatures were half a degree lower than those who did not, even at the ends of the races. But the researchers found only an insignificant difference of a few seconds in the two groups' average times.

Similarly, Kirk Cureton and colleagues at the University of Georgia, Athens, put nine male and eight female runners through simulated 5-kilometer races on treadmills. When the runners wore ice vests during a 38-minute warm-up of jogging and stretching, they finished the time trial 13 seconds faster on average than when they warmed up without them. That was a 57-meter lead over their warmer selves, and "even if it was 10 meters it would be important," Cureton says.

But Cureton and colleagues found that temperature differences vanished by race's end, suggesting that precooling is less valuable for long races like the marathon. It likely helps for races lasting between a minute and an hour, Cureton says. It definitely hurts in sprint events.

13 seconds is huge: the difference between the top three athletes in the 5K at the 2004 Olympics was less than a second. On the other hand, it's not going to take an ordinary athlete and make them an Olympian. Not much use for me either, since I do mostly longer distance events.


The article suggests two questions:

They ingested thermometers? How do you get them back out? Eww...

Has there been a recent improvement in ice-vest technology? If not, it would seem that cooling down athletes before a race would already be an established coaching practice. Portable cooling has been around for a while.

Also, I wonder why research used vests, not the Stanford cooling glove.

What it makes me wonder: How big of an affect is hydrating with ice instead of water?

Slipstream-Chipotle (Now Garmin-Chipotle) won the Giro D'Italia opening day team time trial, and attributed part of their good performance to their ice vests.

Leave a comment