Post-exercise hot water immersion induces heat acclimation and improves endurance
exercise performance in the heat
Michael J. Zurawlew, Neil P. Walsh, Matthew B. Fortes and Claire Potter
College of Health and Behavioural Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57
Prof. Neil P. Walsh FACSM
College of Health and Behavioural Sciences,
Telephone: + 44 1248 383480
Running Head: Heat acclimation by post-exercise hot bath
We examined whether daily hot-water-immersion (HWI) after exercise in temperate
conditions induces heat-acclimation and improves endurance performance in temperate and
hot conditions. Seventeen non-heat-acclimatized males performed a 6-day intervention
involving a daily treadmill-run for 40min at 65% V
̇O2max in temperate conditions (18°C)
followed immediately by either HWI (N=10; 40°C) or thermoneutral (CON, N=7; 34°C)
immersion for 40min. Before and after the 6-day intervention, participants performed a
treadmill run for 40min at 65% V
̇O2max followed by a 5 km treadmill-time-trial (TT) in
temperate (18°C, 40% humidity) and hot (33°C, 40% humidity) conditions. HWI induced
heat-acclimation demonstrated by lower resting rectal temperature (Tre, mean, -0.27°C,
P<0.01), and final Tre during submaximal exercise in 18°C (-0.28°C, P<0.01) and 33°C (-
0.36°C, P<0.01). Skin temperature, Tre at sweating onset and RPE were lower during
submaximal exercise in 18°C and 33°C after 6-days in HWI (P<0.05). Physiological strain
and thermal sensation were also lower during submaximal exercise in 33°C after 6-days in
HWI (P<0.05). HWI improved TT performance in 33°C (4.9%, P<0.01) but not in 18°C.
Thermoregulatory measures and performance did not change in CON. Hot-water-immersion
after exercise on 6-days presents a simple, practical and effective heat-acclimation strategy to
improve endurance performance in the heat.
Keywords: Thermoregulation; Hyperthermia; Performance; Running; Heat illness; Hot bath
Athletes, military personnel and firefighters are often required to perform in the heat which
increases physiological demands and places substantial strain on heat loss mechanisms
(Cheung et al., 2000). To reduce the risk of exertional-heat-illness (EHI) and improve
exercise capability in the heat these individuals often prepare by completing an exercise heat
acclimation protocol. The adaptive responses to exercise heat acclimation have been widely
documented (Taylor, 2014) and include, but are not limited to, earlier onset of cutaneous
vasodilatation and sweating, increases in sweating rate, reduced cardiovascular strain and, in-
turn, reduced core temperature and physiological strain, and improved endurance capacity
during exercise in the heat. Some evidence supports the notion that the ergogenic benefit of
exercise heat acclimation extends to endurance performance in cool conditions (Lorenzo et
al., 2010) but recent evidence presents a mixed picture (Neal et al., 2015).
Conventional exercise heat acclimation protocols typically consist of a daily bout of exercise
heat stress over a five to sixteen day period where core temperature is increased for 1-2 hours
in an artificial hot environment (Nadel et al., 1974; Garrett et al., 2009). Exercise intensity
during heat acclimation programs has either been fixed, self-regulated or manipulated to
control a precise level of hyperthermia (Fox et al., 1963; Taylor, 2014). Owing to the ensuing
adaptations, the training stimulus typically decreases during conventional exercise heat
acclimation programs (Taylor, 2014). The controlled hyperthermia technique has the
advantage that the adaptive stimulus is kept constant (core temperature clamped at 38.5°C)
(Fox et al., 1963), thus optimizing adaptation and, via thermal clamping, affording greater
insight into underlying mechanisms (Taylor, 2014). However, there are practical
disadvantages using these exercise heat acclimation protocols. These protocols can be costly
and impractical for non-acclimated individuals residing in cooler climates as their completion
requires access to an environmental chamber or temporary relocation to a hotter climate to
complete the protocol. The controlled hyperthermia technique also requires measurement of
core temperature and control of exercise intensity to maintain core temperature at 38.5°C.
One novel, as yet unexplored, approach to these practical limitations may be to have non-
heat-acclimated individuals undertake hot-water immersion (HWI) immediately after daily
exercise performed in temperate conditions. Related support comes from studies showing
thermoregulatory adaptations (Fox et al., 1963; Beaudin et al., 2009) and performance
benefits (Scoon et al., 2007) of passive heat acclimation using controlled hyperthermia in a
vapor barrier suit or sauna, but these methods are somewhat limited in terms of their
practicality and no measures of thermoregulation were reported during exercise-heat-stress
(Scoon et al., 2007; Beaudin et al., 2009). Support also comes from studies in non-heat-
acclimated individuals showing that repeated HWI over a 10-14 day period decreased core
temperature at rest before and during HWI (Brebner et al., 1961; Brazaitis and Skurvydas,
2010) and during light exercise in the heat (Brebner et al., 1961; Bonner et al., 1976). More
practical alternatives for heat acclimation would be welcome as these studies used a thermal
clamp (Bonner et al., 1976) and an unpleasant 44°C HWI protocol (Brazaitis and Skurvydas,
2010). Extending beyond the obvious practical advantages, as combined elevations in core
temperature and skin temperature are important to achieve full heat acclimation (Fox et al.,
1964; Regan et al., 1996) there is a reasoned physiological argument for why HWI (elevated
skin temperature) immediately after daily exercise in temperate conditions (elevated core
temperature) might elicit favorable heat acclimation responses.
To date, no study has investigated whether a daily HWI following exercise in temperate
conditions induces heat acclimation and improvements in endurance exercise performance in
hot and temperate conditions. To this end, we hypothesized that a short-term (6-day) protocol
involving a 40 min HWI each day after sub-maximal treadmill running in a temperate
laboratory would induce heat acclimation and performance improvements during a 5 km
treadmill time-trial in both temperate (18°C) and hot (33°C) conditions.
Seventeen physically active, non-heat acclimatized males who had not been exposed to hot
environmental conditions in the past 3 months and completed two or more hours of
endurance exercise per week were recruited to participate in the study. Participants were
randomly assigned to either a 6-day hot water immersion (HWI: N = 10; mean ± SD, age: 23
± 3 years; body mass: 69.5 ± 6.9 kg; V
̇O2max 60.5 ± 6.8 mL/kg/min) or control (CON: N = 7;
age: 23 ± 3 years; body mass: 72.1 ± 5.8 kg; V
̇O2max 60.1 ± 8.9 mL/kg/min) intervention. A
6-day intervention was completed to align with other short-term heat acclimation protocols
(Aoyagi et al., 1995; Cotter et al., 1997). There were no differences in the characteristics of
participants in HWI and CON. The study received local ethical approval and was conducted
in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki (2013). All participants provided full written
informed consent, were healthy, non-smokers, free from any known cardiovascular or
metabolic diseases and were not taking any medication.
Prior to (days -3 to -1), and following (days +1 to +4) the 6-day HWI or CON intervention,
experimental trials were completed in temperate (18.0 ± 0.1 °C, 42.5 ± 3.6 % RH) and hot
conditions (33.0 ± 0.3 °C, 40.2 ± 0.7 % RH; Fig. 1). Experimental trials included a 40 min
submaximal run followed by 60 min rest, then a 5 km treadmill time trial (TT). On the day of,
and in the 24 hours prior to experimental trials (Fig. 1) no alcohol, any form of diuretics,
caffeine or tobacco were consumed and no exercise, other than that prescribed, was
undertaken. During the intervention (days 1 to 6) participants were required to consume their
normal diet and fluid intake, including caffeine and alcohol (≤ 3 units per day) and to reduce
their regular training by the volume of endurance exercise completed during the intervention
in the laboratory.
*** Fig. 1 near here ***
Preliminary measurements and familiarization
A continuous incremental exercise test on a motorized treadmill (HP Cosmos Mercury 4.0,
Nussdorf-Traunstein, Germany) was used to assess V
̇O2max in temperate conditions (19 °C,
42 % RH), as described (Fortes et al., 2013). Using the interpolation of the running speed –
̇O2 relationship, the running speed that elicited 65 % V
̇O2max was then determined and
verified 30 min later. This individualized running speed was used for both the submaximal
exercise during experimental trials and in the daily exercise throughout the 6-day
intervention. Following the speed verification, participants rested in the laboratory for 60
min. During this time they were familiarized with the speed controls of the treadmill within
the environmental chamber (Delta Environmental Systems, Chester, UK) and with all
instrumentation and procedures used in the experimental trials. Participants then entered the
environmental chamber (18 °C, 40 % RH) and completed a maximal effort 5 km treadmill TT
at self-selected intensities. One familiarization was deemed sufficient to mitigate against
learning effects (Laursen et al., 2007). The chamber was silent and the only information the
participant received was the distance covered displayed on a screen in front of them.
Participants completed a diet diary in the 24 h prior to their first experimental trial (Fig. 1)
and were asked to replicate this prior to further experimental trials. On the day of each
experimental trial, participants arrived at the laboratory at 0730 h fasted. They were provided
with a standardized breakfast (0.03 MJ/kg) and a bolus of water equivalent to 7 mL/kg of
body mass. At 0800 h on days -1 and +2 a venous blood sample was taken without stasis
following a seated rest. Urine samples were collected on all experimental trials and analyzed
for urine specific gravity (USG) using a handheld refractometer (Atago Uricon-Ne
refractometer, NSG Precision cells, New York, USA). A pre-exercise nude body mass
(NBM) was taken using a digital platform scale (Model 705; Seca, Hamburg, Germany) and
then the participant was instrumented for the exercise protocol. At 0845 h, dressed in T-shirt,
running shorts, socks and shoes participants rested for 15 min in the laboratory (18 °C) to
establish baseline measures.
Submaximal exercise. At 0900 h dressed in running shorts, socks and shoes the participant
entered the environmental chamber that was maintained at either 18 °C, 40 % RH or 33 ºC,
40 % RH and completed a 40 min 65 % V
̇O2max treadmill run (1 % gradient; (Jones and
Doust, 1996). During this time no fluids were consumed. Rectal temperature (Tre), skin
temperatures (Tsk) and heart rate (HR) were monitored continuously and rating of perceived
exertion (RPE) (Borg, 1970) and thermal sensation (TS) (Hollies and Goldman, 1977) were
recorded every 5 min. V
̇O2, and respiratory exchange ratio (RER) were assessed from 60 s
expired gas samples collected by Douglas bag method at 9-10, 19-20, 29-30 and 39-40 min of
exercise. Local forearm sweat rate was measured every 20 s for the first 15 min of exercise to
assess the onset of sweating. Immediately following exercise a finger prick blood sample was
taken and assessed for blood lactate concentration. A NBM was then taken to estimate whole
body sweat losses, and the participant sat quietly in the laboratory in temperate conditions (18
°C) dressed in T-shirt, running shorts, socks and shoes for 60 min. A single bolus of water (5
mL/kg body mass) was consumed within the first 20 min of this rest period.
5 km treadmill time trial. The TT was completed immediately following a NBM after the
60 min rest period. The participant re-entered the environmental chamber dressed in running
shorts, socks and shoes and completed the TT run on a motorized treadmill (1 % gradient) at
self-selected speeds. Participants were instructed to run the 5 km TT as quickly as possible.
No feedback other than the distance covered was provided. No fluids were consumed during
the TT. Tre and HR were measured continuously, and on completion a NBM was recorded to
estimate whole body sweat losses. The participant was then provided with water equivalent to
sweat losses and was free to leave the laboratory.
The 6-day HWI and CON interventions were completed over consecutive days (days 1 to 6;
Fig. 1). Participants in HWI and CON completed the same submaximal exercise protocol on
each of these days in temperate conditions (18 °C) and a 40 min water immersion (HWI; 40
°C and CON; 34 °C) following its cessation. The CON intervention controlled for any
training and/or hydrostatic effects on subsequent thermoregulatory measures and endurance
Submaximal exercise. On each day participants reported to the laboratory between 0600 h
and 1000 h. A pre-exercise NBM (after voiding) was taken and after fitting a rectal thermistor
and HR monitor participants rested in the laboratory for 15 min to establish baseline
measures. Participants then ran for 40 min on a motorized treadmill at 65 % V
̇O2max in a
temperate environment (18 °C) dressed in running shorts, socks and shoes. A bolus of water
(5 mL/kg of body mass) was consumed in the first 20 min of exercise, to replicate normal
training procedures, and Tre and HR were monitored continuously. At the cessation of
exercise participants undertook the water immersion (2-3 min transition).
Water immersion. Following transition, participants were immersed to the neck in a water
bath dressed in shorts. Those completing HWI were immersed in 39.9 ± 0.3 °C water while a
thermoneutral water temperature of 34.1 ± 0.4 °C was used for CON. The water temperature
was maintained during immersions by adding hot or cold water and allowing water to drain to
maintain immersion to neck level, where necessary. The 34 °C water temperature on CON
was chosen as pilot testing showed that Tre returned to baseline after exercise at a similar rate
to sitting in temperate laboratory conditions (18 °C), and thus would not provide any
additional cooling effect. During immersion, no fluids were consumed and Tre and HR were
monitored continuously. Immersion ended after 40 min unless the participant removed
themselves due to discomfort in HWI. Following immersion participants sat in the laboratory
for 15 min without fluids and a NBM was taken and adjusted for fluid intake during the
submaximal exercise in order to estimate whole body sweat loss. Participants were free to
leave the laboratory when Tre ≤ 38.5 °C.
Measurement and instrumentation
Body temperatures. Tre was measured using a flexible, sterile, disposable rectal thermistor
(Henleys Medical Supplies Ltd., Herts, UK) inserted 10 cm beyond the rectal sphincter and
recorded using a data logger (YSI model 4000A, YSI, Dayton, USA). Skin temperatures from
four sites on the right side of the body (on the chest at a midpoint between the acromion
process and the nipple, the lateral mid-bicep, the anterior mid-thigh, and lateral calf) were
measured using insulated thermistors (Grant EUS-U, Cambridge, UK) and recorded using a
portable data logger (Grant SQ2020, Cambridge, UK). Mean Tsk was calculated using a four-
site weighted equation (Ramanathan, 1964).
Sweating responses. Changes in dry NBM were used to estimate whole body sweating rate
during all intervention days and experimental trials. Local forearm sweating rate was
measured by dew point hygrometry during the submaximal run of experimental trials as
described (Fortes et al., 2013).
Physiological strain. Physiological strain index (PhSI) was calculated using Tre and HR data
collected every 5 min throughout submaximal exercise during experimental trials, as
described (Tikuisis et al., 2002). This index describes physiological strain on a 0 (no strain) to
10 (very high strain) scale.
Blood sample collection and analysis
Venous blood samples were collected from an antecubital vein into an EDTA vacutainer
(BD, Oxford, UK) and aliquots of whole blood were used for the immediate determination of
hemoglobin in duplicate (Hemocue, Sheffield, UK) and hematocrit in triplicate (capillary
tube method). Plasma volume (day -1) was estimated from body mass, as described (Sawka et
al., 1992). The change in plasma volume (day +2) was estimated by correcting the initial
plasma volume for the percentage change in plasma volume as described (Dill and Costill,
Data in the results are presented as mean ± standard deviation (SD), or mean and 90 %
confidence interval of the change for one-tailed tests where stated, and statistical significance
was accepted at P < 0.05. The meaningfulness of the within-subject differences was also
calculated using Cohen’s d effect size with effect sizes greater than 0.2, 0.5 and 0.8
representing small, medium and large effects. Two sample size calculations (G*Power 3.1.2)
were performed using mean data taken from a 5-day heat acclimation study (Garrett et al.,
2009) and a 5 km treadmill TT reliability study (Laursen et al., 2007). For a one-tailed t-test
with alpha level set at 0.05 and power set at 0.8 a sample size of 9 participants was calculated
to detect a meaningful heat acclimation induced difference in final exercising Tre (0.3 °C). To
detect a meaningful improvement in 5 km treadmill TT performance (set at 3 %) it was
estimated that a sample size of 7 participants was needed. To ensure adequate power for both
key variables, and allowing for dropout, a sample size of 10 participants was used for HWI.
All data were checked for normality and sphericity, and analyzed using t-tests. RER and V
were analyzed using one-way repeated measures ANOVA’s with Greenhouse Geisser
correction to the degrees of freedom where necessary. Tukey’s HSD or Bonferroni-adjusted
paired t-test post hoc tests were used where appropriate. Sweating threshold was calculated
by plotting individual relationships between local forearm sweating rate and Tre, as described
(Cheuvront et al., 2009). To assess cumulative hyperthermia, area under the curve (AUC)
analysis was performed on the daily Tre (time Tre was >38.5 °C) in HWI (Cheuvront et al.,
2008). Pearson’s correlations were performed to determine the strength of the relationship
between the AUC and the change in hallmark heat acclimation variables e.g. change in
resting Tre. All data was analyzed using SPSS version 20 (IBM Corporation, NY, USA), or
GraphPad Prism Version 5.02 (GraphPad Software Inc. La Jolla, USA).
All participants in HWI and CON completed the 6-day intervention. Tre increased on average
1.13 ± 0.24 °C during 40 min of daily submaximal exercise. Tre increased a further 1.01 ±
0.31 °C during HWI and returned to the pre-exercise resting level during CON immersion (-
1.10 ± 0.26 °C). Total AUC (Tre >38.5 °C during submaximal exercise and immersion) for
the 6-day HWI intervention was 156 ± 83 °C/min and for CON was 2 ± 4 °C/min. Total AUC
in HWI was greater on day 3 compared with day 1 (P = 0.05) but was not different on days 4
to 6 compared with day 1; indicating no significant reduction in the total AUC. No daily
differences for total AUC were observed in CON. Heat acclimation was demonstrated in
HWI by an increase in whole body sweat rate by day 4 (P = 0.02) and an increase in
immersion time by day 3 (P = 0.04; Table 1). By day 5, 9 out of 10 participants completed
the full 40 min immersion in HWI: one participant was removed due to reaching the Tre
safety limit (Tre 39.5 °C). On all other occasions when the 40 min immersion was not
completed participants removed themselves due to discomfort (Table 1). In CON, all
participants completed all 40 min immersions and whole body sweat rate was unchanged
from day 1 (0.39 ± 0.08 L/h).
*** Table 1 near here ***
Resting responses. Resting Tre was lower following 6-days in HWI in 9 out of 10 participants
with a mean change in resting Tre of -0.27 °C (CI: -0.16 to -0.39 °C, P = 0.001, d = 0.75; Fig.
2A). There was no change in resting Tre in CON (Fig. 2A). A moderate negative correlation (r
= -0.39) was observed between the total AUC for the 6-day HWI intervention and the
decrease in resting Tre. USG was not different between experimental trials and there was a
modest increase in plasma volume from day -1 to day +2 in HWI (3 ± 5 %, P = 0.05), with no
change in CON (1 ± 3 %, P = 0.31).
*** Fig. 2 near here ***
Submaximal exercise responses. After the 6-day HWI intervention, end Tre during
submaximal exercise was lower in 9 of 10 participants in 18 °C and 10 of 10 participants in
33 °C (Fig. 2B) where change in end Tre was -0.28 °C (CI: -0.16 to -0.40 °C, P = 0.001, d =
0.78) in 18 °C and -0.36 °C (CI: -0.24 to -0.49 °C, : P = 0.0001, d = 0.70) in 33 °C. A modest
negative correlation (r = -0.45) was observed between total AUC for the 6-day HWI
intervention and the decrease in end submaximal exercise Tre in 33 °C. CON demonstrated no
change in end exercise Tre in either 18 °C or 33 °C (Fig. 2B). HWI decreased end exercise Tsk
(18 °C: P = 0.001, d = 0.86; 33 °C: P = 0.001, d = 0.60; Fig. 3C) and decreased Tre at the
onset of sweating in both 18 °C (P = 0.001, d = 0.86; Fig. 3A) and 33 °C (P = 0.02, d = 0.57).
End exercise RPE (18 °C: P = 0.01, d = 0.74; 33 °C: P = 0.04, d = 0.72; Fig. 3E) and HR
were lowered in 18 °C and 33 °C after 6-days in HWI (18 °C: -7, CI: -2 to -11 bpm; P = 0.02,
d = 0.52; 33 °C: -6, CI: -2 to -10 bpm; P = 0.01, d = 0.40) and PhSI (P = 0.01, d = 0.87; Fig.
3D) and TS were lower in 33 °C (P = 0.01, d = 0.70; Fig. 3F). HWI had no effect on V
RER in 18 °C or 33 °C. There was no effect of CON on any of the above variables (Fig. 3A-
*** Fig. 3 near here ***
5 km treadmill time trial performance. Endurance exercise performance, assessed via a 5
km treadmill TT, was not altered in CON in either 18 °C (PRE: 1208 ± 191 s and POST:
1216 ± 167 s) or 33 °C (PRE: 1321 ± 219 s and POST: 1299 ± 207 s) indicating no training
effect. One HWI participant did not complete the PRE 33 °C TT and another HWI
participant’s TT data was excluded from analysis due to obvious lack of effort on the POST
18 °C TT (mean % HR max was 82 % compared with 91 % for the group and 96 % for his
PRE 18 °C TT). Endurance exercise performance was impaired in 33 °C compared with 18
°C before the intervention (P = 0.03, d = 0.40; Fig. 4A). The 6-day HWI intervention did not
alter TT performance in 18 °C but improved TT performance in 33 °C (P = 0.01, d = 0.42;
Fig. 4A and B). The 4.9 % improvement in TT performance in 33 °C in HWI restored
performance to the level observed in 18 °C conditions (Fig. 4A). After the 6-day HWI
intervention end TT Tre was lower in 33 °C (-0.17 °C; CI:-0.04 to -0.30; P = 0.02, d = 0.49).
There were no other PRE to POST differences in Tre in HWI or CON during the TT.
*** Fig. 4 near here ***
These novel findings suggest that heat acclimation can be achieved by HWI after exercise in
temperate conditions on 6-days and, as such, presents a practical strategy to improve heat
dissipation and endurance performance in the heat. There are two principal findings in the
present study that support this recommendation. Firstly, we observed clear evidence of heat
acclimation after the HWI intervention demonstrated by lower resting Tre (-0.27 °C) and
lower end submaximal exercise Tre in both 18 °C (-0.28 °C) and 33 °C (-0.36 °C). Hallmark
heat acclimation responses also included a lower set point for sweating onset and reductions
in Tsk, PhSI, RPE and TS during submaximal exercise in the heat after 6-days in HWI.
Adaptations were evident sooner than day 6 of HWI; for example, whole body sweat rate was
increased by day 4 of the intervention. Secondly, the HWI intervention improved 5 km
treadmill TT performance 4.9 % in 33 °C restoring performance to the level achieved in 18
°C. Strengths of this study include control of the time of day for the intervention and
experimental trials and the inclusion of a control group. Including CON provides confidence
that the adaptations shown in HWI were attributed to bathing in hot water after exercise,
since the daily exercise and thermoneutral water immersions completed by CON did not
affect thermoregulatory or performance outcomes. We recognize that the addition of a
traditional exercise heat acclimation group would have enabled for comparisons with the
HWI intervention. Additionally, though we observed a modest expansion of plasma volume
in HWI we recognize the weakness of estimating this using hemoglobin and hematocrit and
recommend tracer techniques be used to verify this finding.
Current recommendations state that heat acclimation should comprise repeated bouts of
exercise in the heat over 1-2 weeks (Racinais et al., 2015). Here the findings suggest that
HWI after exercise in temperate conditions on 6-days presents an alternative heat acclimation
strategy that overcomes some of the practical limitations of current heat acclimation
strategies. Hallmarks of successful heat acclimation include a decrease in resting and
exercising core temperature and an improved exercise capacity in the heat (Nadel et al.,
1974). The utility of short-term exercise-heat acclimation protocols lasting 4-6 days has been
investigated (Sunderland et al., 2008; Garrett et al., 2012), since most adaptations occur
within the first 6 days of heat acclimation (Armstrong and Maresh, 1991) and because a
shorter heat acclimation protocol is considered to integrate better into an athlete’s
training/tapering program. In line with other short-term (Cotter et al., 1997), and traditional,
longer term exercise-heat acclimation protocols (Armstrong and Kenney, 1993), our 6-day
post-exercise HWI intervention, decreased exercise Tre (Fig. 2B), the Tre at the onset of
sweating (Fig. 3A), Tsk (Fig. 3C), PhSI (Fig. 3D) and improved exercise performance in the
heat (Fig. 4A). Furthermore, the thermoregulatory benefits of HWI we observed during
submaximal exercise in the heat were also apparent in temperate (18 °C) conditions (Fig.
2B). There appear to be additional acclimation advantages of the post-exercise HWI
intervention because, unlike some short-term exercise-heat acclimation studies (Sunderland et
al., 2008; Garrett et al., 2009; Garrett et al., 2012), we also demonstrate a reduction in resting
Tre (-0.27 °C). The responsible mechanism requires elucidation but likely includes increased
resting skin blood flow and sweating sensitivity (Taylor, 2014), and/or a potential decrease in
thermoregulatory set point (Aoyagi et al., 1997); although this concept is controversial
(Romanovsky, 2007). The magnitude of adaptation demonstrated in HWI in the current
study, where the total AUC for Tre >38.5 °C was not different on day 6 vs. day 1, compares
very favorably with short-term exercise-heat acclimation studies (Sunderland et al., 2008;
Garrett et al., 2009; Garrett et al., 2012), including those using controlled hyperthermia (Tre
38.5 °C) that maintain a constant adaptation impulse during daily exercise-heat stress (Garrett
et al., 2012; Taylor, 2014). Work by Fox et al. and later by Regan et al. demonstrated that
whilst heat acclimation is dependent upon the degree of core temperature elevation the
elevation of skin temperature is important for full heat acclimation (Fox et al., 1964; Regan et
al., 1996); therefore, indicating the importance of the external thermal stress and a likely role
for raised Tsk in the observed adaptations in HWI. Peripheral adaptations to local HWI, with
and without a rise in core temperature increased local sweating responses (Fox et al., 1964),
later coined “sweat gland training” (Avellini et al., 1982), but the increase in local sweating
was more dramatic when both core temperature and skin temperature were elevated (Fox et
al., 1964). Thus the combined elevation of Tre (~39.3 °C after each HWI) and Tsk during daily
HWI in 40 °C (where Tsk equilibrates with water temperature) after exercise likely accounts
for the additional observed benefits shown compared with short-term exercise-heat
The majority of studies investigating the effect of heat acclimation on endurance performance
have used time-to-exhaustion protocols, e.g. V
̇O2max ramp protocols (Sawka et al., 1985;
Garrett et al., 2009) or fixed intensity tests (Nielsen et al., 1997; Scoon et al., 2007). Whilst
such tests have shown heat acclimation improvements of ~14 to 32 % (Nielsen et al., 1997;
Scoon et al., 2007; Garrett et al., 2009), this magnitude of improvement needs to be
considered in the context of the variability of time-to-exhaustion protocols, reported to be as
high as 27 % (Jeukendrup et al., 1996). Only a handful of studies have assessed the effect of
heat acclimation on self-paced TT performance and these used daily exercise in the heat to
induce heat acclimation (Lorenzo et al., 2010; Garrett et al., 2012). To our knowledge, this is
the first study to investigate the effects of a daily post-exercise HWI intervention on TT
performance and here we demonstrate an improvement in 5 km TT performance of 4.9 % in
the heat, where performance was restored to the level achieved in 18 °C conditions (Fig. 4A).
The magnitude of performance improvement exceeds the CV (~2 %) for the 5 km TT
(Laursen et al., 2007), and thus, we contend, represents a meaningful performance
improvement (Fig. 4B) attributable to the heat acclimation adaptations observed. The reduced
heat strain after 6-days in HWI is also likely to benefit more prolonged endurance exercise
performance in the heat, by blunting the rise in core temperature; though this requires
investigation. The potential benefits of heat acclimation on endurance performance in cooler
conditions received little attention until one study showed that 10 daily bouts of exercise-heat
stress improved cycling TT performance by 6 % in 13 °C conditions (Lorenzo et al., 2010).
Considering the decrease in thermal strain during submaximal exercise in 18 °C after 6-days
in HWI (Fig. 2B) we might have anticipated, but did not observe, an improvement in 5 km
TT performance in 18 °C. It is conceivable, but requires investigation, that the HWI
intervention might improve endurance performance in temperate conditions that presents a
greater thermal burden such as a 10 km TT (final Tre during 18 °C 5 km TT was only 38.6
In conclusion, hot-water-immersion immediately after exercise in temperate conditions on six
consecutive days reduced heat strain during submaximal exercise in both temperate and hot
conditions, and improved 5 km treadmill TT performance in the heat. For those residing and
training in temperate conditions, incorporating a hot bath into the post-exercise washing
routine on six consecutive days represents a simple, practical, economical and effective heat
acclimation strategy to improve endurance performance in the heat.
This heat-acclimation intervention overcomes a number of practical limitations with current
exercise-heat-acclimation protocols. For example, access to a hot environment is not
required, neither is precise control of exercising Tre, but also because a post-exercise hot bath
does not interfere with daily training and might be incorporated into post-exercise washing
routines. Analogous to “live-high train-low” (Stray-Gundersen et al., 2001) we contend these
findings support the concept, ‘train-cool bathe-hot’. Although this alternative heat-
acclimation strategy conflicts with current athlete practice which includes post-exercise
cryotherapy, the benefits of cryotherapy to improve recovery have been questioned (Leeder et
al., 2012). The benefits of HWI are likely greater when core temperature is elevated
following exercise, but future research that is mindful of the prior exercise-heat strain, safety
and real-world limitations is required to verify this and establish whether the intervention can
be optimized for military/occupational or athlete scenarios. For example, the intervention
might be manipulated (e.g. reducing the water temperature, duration and/or frequency of
exposures) for the military/occupational scenario where the aim is to improve tolerance and
safety (reduce EHI risk) to a standard heat challenge in large groups (one-size-fits-all). For
athletes wishing to optimize performance in the heat, the intervention could be manipulated
to ensure constant physiological strain during exposures. Future studies are also required to
investigate the decay of heat-acclimation following this intervention, in males and females,
and to assess the purported benefits for cellular training adaptations (Tamura et al., 2014) and
immunity (Walsh et al., 2011).
We would like to thank the following people for their valuable assistance with data
collection: Tom Ibbitson, David Harding, Liam Renton, Jonathan Donoghue, Lauren Casling,
Benjamin Price, Thomas Storer, Jason Edwards and Kevin Williams. We are also indebted to
the participants for their time and co-operation.
Conflicts of interest: The authors of the study declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
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FIGURE 1. Schematic of study design.
FIGURE 2. Influence of a 6-day post-exercise hot water immersion (HWI) or control (CON)
intervention on resting rectal core temperature (Tre, A) and end exercise Tre (B) assessed
following 40 min running at 65 % V
̇O2max in 18 °C (40 % RH) and 33 °C (40 % RH). Bars
show mean at PRE and POST. Lines represent individual participants. ** P < 0.01, PRE
greater than POST.
FIGURE 3. Influence of a 6-day post-exercise hot water immersion (HWI) or control (CON)
intervention on rectal core temperature at sweating onset (Tre, A), whole body sweat rate
(WBSR, B) and end exercise responses for mean skin temperature (Tsk, C), physiological
strain index (PhSI, D), RPE (E) and thermal sensation (F) following 40 min running at 65 %
̇O2max in 18 °C (40 % RH) and 33 °C (40 % RH). Bars show mean at PRE and POST and
SD. * P < 0.05 and ** P < 0.01, PRE greater than POST.
FIGURE 4. Influence of a 6-day post-exercise hot water immersion (HWI) intervention on 5
km treadmill TT performance (A) and % change in 5 km treadmill TT performance (B) in 18
°C (40 % RH) and 33 °C (40 % RH). Shown are mean and SD (A) and mean and 90 % CI of
the difference (B). * P < 0.05 and ** P < 0.01.
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
(°C) at sweating onset
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
End Tsk (°C)
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
18 C 33 C 18 C 33 C
End thermal sensation
18 C 33 C
Time to complete 5 km (s)
18 C 33 C
TT performance (%)
Table 1. The influence of submaximal running at 65% V
̇O2max for 40 min in 18 °C and post-exercise hot water immersion in 40 °C water immersed to the
neck (HWI; n = 10) on daily thermoregulatory variables, heart rate and immersion time. Data displayed as mean ± SD.
HWI intervention day
Change in Tre (° C)
1.11 ± 0.25
1.15 ± 0.23
1.15 ± 0.26
1.22 ± 0.17
1.12 ± 0.19
1.17 ± 0.23
Heart rate (beats/min)
142 ± 13
142 ± 15
142 ± 14
140 ± 12
139* ± 12
140 ± 11
Hot water immersion
Change in Tre (° C)
0.95 ± 0.27
0.94 ± 0.33
1.04 ± 0.40
0.99 ± 0.31
1.08 ± 0.28
1.09 ± 0.30
Immersion time (min:s)
32:50 ± 07:14
35:18 ± 06:43
38:00* ± 03:30
39:21* ± 01:25
39:36* ± 01:16
39:45* ± 00:47
Participants completing 40 min immersion (n)
Submaximal exercise and hot water immersion
Sweat rate (L/h)
0.89 ± 0.30
0.98 ± 0.33
1.03 ± 0.36
1.08* ± 0.30
1.08** ± 0.26
1.14** ± 0.31
*P < 0.05, **P < 0.01 vs. day 1.