You may give your face a quick splash to wash off any sweat, or just to help cool you down after a hard workout, but new research suggests that you may be subconsciously kick-starting the recovery process. The work coming from the University of Picardie, France investigated the effect of cold water face immersion on post-exercise parasympathetic reactivation. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) forms one half of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is something your brain controls without your conscious awareness. The other half of the ANS is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The PNS and SNS essentially operate as opposing forces. While the SNS will jack up your heart rate, constrict blood vessels, increase blood pressure, increase oxygen uptake and generally fire you up, the PNS will attempt to reverse these effects, slowing the heart rate, relaxing blood vessels, promoting intestinal nutrient uptake and generally returning you to normal. Does this sound familiar going from heavy weight lifting/training to the post-exercise state? Thought so.
Using the heart rate as an indicator, the researchers put the thirteen participants through their paces on two separate occasions, followed by either cold water face immersion, or nothing (i.e. the control). While the researchers did find, and concluded, that “Cold water face immersion appears to be a simple and efficient means of immediately accelerating post-exercise parasympathetic reactivation”, I have a couple of issues with the experiment as it relates to real-world. Firstly, thirteen participants is very low. Secondly, not many people are going to dunk their head in a bucket of cold water for five minutes. But like I said at the start of the article, it does explain why we may feel compelled to splash our faces after training with cold water.
This article also reminds me of the “latest technology” available for athletes called “The Glove”. This is basically a cold glove you wear during training in a bid to help dissipate the rise in body temperature that can negatively impact your performance. I’ve never used one, but I am interested if any of the ST readers have any experience with it?
Source: Al Haddad H, Laursen PB, Ahmaidi S, Buchheit M. Influence of cold water face immersion on post-exercise parasympathetic reactivation. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Feb;108(3):599-606.