As everyone has learned from this era of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, steroids and doping is against the rules. But researchers at Stanford have created a cooling glove that according to one of the lead scientists on the team is “Equal to or substantially better than steroids … and it’s not illegal.”
How can a cooling glove improve athletic performance? The researchers got lucky and noticed the glove dramatically reduced muscle fatigue. The device works by creating a low pressure environment around the hand, expanding arteriovenous anastomoses (vessels responsible for controlling body temperature). A cooling liquid is concurrently circulated throughout the glove, rapidly lowering core body temperature.
Even in prototype form, the researchers’ device proved enormously efficient at altering body temperature. The glove’s early successes were actually in increasing the core temperature of surgery patients recovering from anesthesia.
“We built a silly device, took it over to the recovery room and, lo and behold, it worked beyond our wildest imaginations,” Heller explained. “Whereas it was taking them hours to re-warm patients coming into the recovery room, we were doing it in eight, nine minutes.”
But the glove’s effects on athletic performance didn’t become apparent until the researchers began using the glove to cool a member of the lab – the confessed “gym rat” and frequent coauthor Vinh Cao – between sets of pull-ups. The glove seemed to nearly erase his muscle fatigue; after multiple rounds, cooling allowed him to do just as many pull-ups as he did the first time around. So the researchers started cooling him after every other set of pull-ups.
“Then in the next six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620,” said Heller. “That was a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented.”
The researchers applied the cooling method to other types of exercise – bench press, running, cycling. In every case, rates of gain in recovery were dramatic, without any evidence of the body being damaged by overwork – hence the “better than steroids” claim. Versions of the glove have since been adopted by the Stanford football and track and field teams, as well as other college athletics programs, the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders and Manchester United soccer club.
Perhaps one day we’ll see these built right into bicycle handles for continuous drug-free, dope-free performance enhancement during the Tour de France.
More about the latest findings from the press release:: Stanford researchers’ cooling glove ‘better than steroids’ – and helps solve physiological mystery, too
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