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Increasing Exercise Performance May Be Cooler Than You Think

Who needs steroids? Stanford scientists have found that cooling can do more for increasing your endurance.

If you are looking to ramp up your workouts this summer by 300% (yes, that’s right), ditch the cold washcloth on your neck. Instead, splash cold water on your face, or your hands and your feet — according to Stanford biologists H. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn.

Apparently, we have a special network of veins called AVAs (arteriovenous anastomoses) which exclusively manage temperature. These networks are in three locations only — your hands, feet, and face — which allow for the wicking of heat from the body for rapid cooling. The reason why most of us have to take breaks when we exercise is because our muscles overheat (hyperthermia). Muscle hyperthermia is what makes us “tired.”

Rapid cooling, it seems, can extend workouts far beyond what we would ever have guessed. In fact, Stanford scientists have spent the last 20 years developing a cooling glove for just this purpose. In the article “Stanford researchers’ cooling glove ‘better than steroids’ ” the author describes an experiment using their prototype glove on a guy in a gym.

The glove seemed to nearly erase his muscle fatigue; and 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.”

Because the glove isn’t on the market yet, Stanford scientist Andrew Huberman, from The Huberman Lab Podcast, whittles it down to a couple of useful hacks for us. Splash cool, but not ice-cold, water on your face between reps. Or, pass a bag of frozen peas or berries from one hand to the next repeatedly for a few passes, holding the bag for only 10 – 30 seconds in each hand, as cooling the skin too much will cause the vessels to constrict which inhibits the thermal flow. If you have access to “room temperature” water, submerging your feet (and hands) into cool water for 10-30 seconds a few times will increase your endurance “better than steroids.” Although I have no interest in doing 600 pull-ups, I am interested in seeing how I might do on a hike this summer in the California desert. It may be worth bringing an insulated cold pack just to see how it works. Feel free to let us know how your experiment goes.

P.S. Want more cutting-edge neuroscience tips like these? Subscribe to The Huberman Lab, by Stanford scientist Andrew Huberman on IG and Youtube. From managing focus, stress, and sleep to controlling pain and hunger, dreaming, performance — Huberman covers these topics pulling only from rigorous, cutting-edge research and literature reviews.

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Mary P Shriver
A trauma-informed somatic stress therapist with a clinical practice in Los Angeles, she is also a writer and an accomplished cook. Originally from NYC, her storied background includes a stint in Las Vegas as a Big Band jazz singer and Director of Public Relations for the Four Season’s Beverly Hills. Contact Mary here: www.shakeoffstress.com

 

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