Local cooling by application of ice or pre-exercise lower body cooling is a common practice in competitive football (http://georgenassis.blogspot.com/2011/10/post-training-muscle-cooling-may.html). Is performance affected by the use of these methods? How safe is it for the player when returning to the pitch?
A nice review article by Bleakly and colleagues (2012) has summarized the research findings in this area. Here are the main conclusions:
- The majority of studies show a reduction in muscle strength immediately following cooling.
- There is evidence than cooling negatively affects running speed, power and agility. However, this decline was alleviated with a short warm up.
- Effect of cooling on endurance is not clear with some studies showing negative and some others positive effects. Those with positive effects asked subjects to exercise in the heat immediately after pre-cooling.
Points to consider when interpreting these findings
- Cooling was mainly achieved with >20min of cold water immersion.
- Performance remained below baseline for about 15min following cooling.
- Effect of cooling on performance is affected by several factors such as limb adiposity.
- There is very limited, if any, information in the literature on the effect of cooling on football skill performance.
For more reading
Bleakley et al. (2012). Should athletes return to sport after applying ice? Sports Medicine 42: 69-87.