All In the Name of Science: Back Into the Oven (A Follow Up)

Posted: August 14, 2015 in In Transition, Training
Tags: , ,

You might remember that one year ago that I was participating as a guinea pig (I prefer the term “suffer Bunny”) in an Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’ series of testing at the Brock University kinesiology lab (click HERE).

Basically, I allowed myself to be heated up like a baked potato in their “oven” while clad in full on fire-fighters gear and then ran the gauntlet to see the effects of heat on my overall performance.  The theory being that if I were allowed to temporarily cool off between exercise protocols using a “cooling hood“ that my performance might improve, or in some way become easier.

It didn’t.

It sucked…each and every  time.

And that’s no exaggeration, believe me.

So as a result, nobody really paid this study any notice.

Maybe they should have published the study along with a sexy type calendar.  I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want to gaze on this at their cubicle wall?

Am I making you hot, baby?

Am I making you hot, baby?

Here's some more sexy shit.

Here’s some more sexy shit.

I mean, we didn’t really prove anything did we?   No.  This particularly sucks because I (we) suffered apparently to only prove what everybody already knows, that getting roasted alive is not fun. It’s torturous actually.  This is completely the opposite of the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) I did the year before which ended up turning the athletic and endurance world on its ear in regard to its rethinking of popular hydration strategies.  Plus, I officially got referred to as an “athlete”.

THAT  was some cool shit.

This?

Not so much.

But, hey, ‘c’est la vie’.

Anyway, here we are a year later and the official paper has finally been published.  So did we actually learn anything from this experiment?  I mean, if I suffered like a champ for this, surely, something  had to come from it right?

Thankfully, something did.

It isn’t much, true, but it’s something  at least.

However, a little background first. Studies were conducted in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that suggested that head cooling strategies were effective in improving performance in hot and humid conditions.  New evidence from 2008+ shows that if we wear a neck cooling collar we can exercise longer, harder, and to a higher core temperature.  Plus we ‘feel’ much cooler while using it. Such strategies include forearm immersion, facial misting (no, it’s nothing kinky I assure you) and neck cooling collars were all suggested and proven to be beneficial.  The problem is, for fire fighters anyway, is that for forearm immersion to take place one would have to remove their jacket which isn’t practical when fighting fires and facial misting is less effective in highly humid environments because of the decreased water vapor pressure gradient (meaning we lose the ability to evaporate the sweat and thus fail to cool ourselves).   So, would a “cooling hood”, which is easier to apply during a fire-fighters recovery period since it does not require one to remove their jacket, actually help? It makes sense given that there is lots of blood flow in the head. In fact, 25% of our metabolism is centered in the brain, even though it only weighs 2 lbs.. Furthermore, the blood flow is closer to the surface so its effect would be quicker to cool the blood and feel cooler, than say cooling the foot or arms…theoretically, of course.

And that’s where I come in.

Through this testing we (I mean the researchers, of course) were aiming to see if fire fighters could benefit from the cooling effect provided by the hood in “uncompensable” heat stress and, ultimately, perform better.  Specifically, would it:

  1. Drop the body’s core temperature?
  2. Allow them to last longer?
  3. Enable them to use less air, allowing them to perform longer?
  4. Allow them to feel better?

I know, I know, you’re on pins and needles here right?

Well, let me fill you in on the findings.

First, the cooling hood had absolutely no effect on the core temperature at all…like, none.

Core Temp

See? Nada.

And I can definitely vouch for this: it was fucking hot no matter what.  Even after resting for 20 minutes (the standard recovery period for active fire fighters) with the cooling head, my core temperature continued to climb into the second exercise protocol.  Okay, there was a marginal difference in temperature as the graph above shows but it was nothing to get excited about.

However, perception wise, the cooling hood did make me feel a bit cooler even though, physiologically, there was no difference in my core temperature whatsoever.  This was reflected in the ‘Perceived Thermal Stress’ (PTS) ranking where I was asked to give my perception on the heat stress I was enduring at time.

It is interesting to note afterwards, however, that while the perception of heat stress improved overall, the actual perception of the exercises difficulty did not as recorded in my ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’ (RPE).

No sir.

It blew.

There’s a problem with this though in that both the PTS and RPE are highly subjective.  I mean, when all you have to look at and dwell on during the torture session are those two charts in front of you, you begin to consider your next answer long before the question is even asked.  So do I choose to appear as a tough guy and say it’s easier or less hot that it really is, or do I answer honestly in that it’s hotter than Hades and this is complete torture?

I dunno.

What I can tell you from my recollection is that during the first 4-8 minutes of the second protocol, everything felt…tolerable. But that quickly changed.  And after that initial period, once again, it was like leaping into an active volcano.

And this was for both the Passive recovery (the first session without the cooling hood) and the Active recovery (the second session with the cooling hood).

Seriously, can you tell which one looks like it might have felt better?

Phil runs the gauntlet.

Phil runs the gauntlet.

Fuck no.

So whether or not this total and complete feeling of HOT and SHITTY (think of that doomed marshmallow that falls into the bonfire kinda hot) both times is reflected accurately in my responses, I can’t say for sure.

Likewise, there was no major difference in my heart rate either.  During the second protocol, my heart rate only decreased by a mere 10 beats per minute which, in the grand scheme of things, is insignificant.

Lastly, there was no difference in the air intake whatsoever so, no, working for longer periods was not likely going to be an option either.

So what does this all mean then?

Well, the overall conclusion is that the cooling hood provided no physiological differences whatsoever.  However, perceptually, there was an improvement in our thermal perception even though there was no actual change in the perception of the exercise itself.  So while we might have felt  better, it did absolutely buckus to improve our overall performance.

What it all boils down to is that the test or, rather, the ability to endure the second protocol was unequivocally mental.   What else is there?  Hey, if there was no change in the core temperature, air consumption or heart rate, any differences to our protocol times really came down to our mental fortitude, or our ability to ultimately endure.  What else is there?  In essence, given the extreme difficulty of the task, how long were we willing  to allow ourselves to suffer?

And believe me again, we suffered.

Hence my preference for the term “Suffer Bunny”.

So if this is a mental thing, how do we improve that?  And that  very question is the premise for the next series of experimentation’s that I was involved in at the Brock lab later and which, as they say, is another story.

More to come on that in the very near future.

(If you wish read the full paper in all it’s scientific glory, you can click on the attachment below)

Wallace-et-al.-2015-Cranial-Head-Cooling-Firefighters

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