What if there were technology that could perform the same function for athletes as a steroid without being illegal or a foreign substance taken in by the body? Stanford University is working on just this.
One of the uses of steroids is to speed recovery time for tired muscles to allow for maximum performance again as quickly as possible. Stanford biologists though stumbled upon a method of thermoregulation that could not only have a similar effect as steroids, but better.
Meet "the glove."
Max McClure writes on Stanford News that the specialized glove developed by Stanford biologists Dennis Grahn and Craig Heller has been well covered by the media but how the glove works -- and the biological findings associated with it -- makes it worth another moment in the spotlight. Not only that but the researchers almost have a commercial product ready.
Humans, like other mammals, have veins known as arteriovenous anastomoses, which help play a role in regulating the body's core temperature. These veins specifically are located in our hands, face and feet. The glove, as its name implies, focuses on the veins in the palm, acting as a more convenient form of an ice bath:
The newest version of the device is a rigid plastic mitt, attached by a hose to what looks like a portable cooler. When Grahn sticks his hand in the airtight glove, the device creates a slight vacuum. The veins in the palm expand, drawing blood into the AVAs, where it is rapidly cooled by water circulating through the glove's plastic lining.
Researches have found that in cooling the palm, it has a rapid result of cooling the body's core as a whole.
"We built a silly device, took it over to the recovery room and, lo and behold, it worked beyond our wildest imaginations," Heller said to McClure. "Whereas it was taking them hours to re-warm patients coming into the recovery room, we were doing it in eight, nine minutes."
Watch how the glove works in this Stanford video:
McClure explains the team realized the benefit the glove could have to athletes when a "gym rat" researcher put the device on and noticed a reduction in 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."
If one's body were to overheat, McClure explains, it causes an enzyme vital for muscle performance to change its shape, which leads to fatigue. Grahn describes it as the body's way of saying "You can't work that hard anymore, because if you do you're going to cook and die." Cooling the body's core allows the enzyme to return to a functional shape.
In addition to being used for those who love to work out, the glove could have application for those who have practices or other strenuous exercise in hot weather.
"And every year we hear stories about high school athletes beginning football practice in August in hot places in the country, and there are deaths due to hyperthermia," Heller told McClure. "There's no reason why that should occur."
The "better than steroids" claim comes from the biologists finding no negative effect on the body from using the glove.