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Precooling: The Pre-Workout Technique You Need to Try This Summer

See how a slushy, cold towels, and frozen underwear can help you perform better and keep you cool during your workout.

Americans love to complain about the weather. It’s our common ground, our default conversation. So, to follow suit: Summer humidity sucks. 

That outdoor cardio workout wasn’t too bad in spring, but come summertime, it’s your most dreaded routine. Burpees? Sprints? Forget it. You’re gasping for air that’s so dense it’s like breathing through a straw. There’s got to be a some type of training tip or trick, a remedy, an ancient medieval practice to relieve us from this torture, right? Right. 

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Researchers with the Environmental Extremes Laboratory at the University of Brighton in England studied a technique called precooling, which (just as it sounds) involves strategies for lowering the body’s temperature before a workout. The theory is that you will exercise more comfortably if your body’s temperature starts from a lower baseline.

To put the idea to the test, the researchers enlisted the help of 12 experienced male runners. The men volunteered for three separate 30-minute treadmill workouts—each conducted in a humid, 90-degree room. Twenty minutes before the first test, the men drank a room temperature, sweetened beverage. In the same time frame before the second, participants drank a 16 oz sweetened slushy to lower their internal core temperature. And before the third, the men underwent a slew of precooling techniques on the skin—which included draping cold, wet towels around their necks, sticking one arm in cold water, wearing a frozen cooling vest, and slipping on underwear equipped with frozen ice packs at the thighs—to lower their external skin temperature. 

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Ultimately, the effects and benefits of precooling were present, but short-lived. The men sustained a relative higher intensity during the early part of their run and they reported feeling less hot after drinking the slushy or cooling their skin. But in the end, their core and skin temperatures were about the same whether they precooled or not. And the slushy—though initially lowering their core temperature—caused their internal temperature to rise faster than with no precooling. 

Give it a shot yourself. Blend ice with water or a sports drink to make your own slushy drink at home and/or wrap a towel around your neck 20 minutes before your next cardio session. The coolness and relief won’t last the whole workout, but you will feel cooler and perform better in the beginning—and who wouldn’t want that?

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