Better Than Steroids? Craig Heller on Thermoregulation & ‘The Glove’ That Could Revolutionize Athletics

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“I expect this [cooling glove] will be either everywhere in pro sports in a couple of years or banned.”

Jason Snell – tech columnist on the RTX Cooling Glove


Imagine a product that could eradicate muscle fatigue in just minutes. Allow you to train substantially harder and recover exponentially faster. Maximize your training efficiency while significantly boosting strength, endurance and overall athletic performance.

Sound too good to be true? Definitely. At least without failing a drug test.

Now what if I told you it’s neither a drug nor illegal.

Impossible?

First let’s backup. One of (if not the) biggest limiters in athletic performance is elevated core temperature. Exertion causes muscle cells to heat up. Via a process called arteriovenous anastomoses, the body does its best to dissipate this extra heat. But if you continue to push yourself, core temperature will continue to rise, compromising the effectiveness of a heat sensitive enzyme crucial for energy production called pyruvate kinase. The result? Weakness, fatigue and cramping.

If one could prevent the escalation of core temperature, it reasons that one could extend energy production and delay fatigue.

The study of thermoregulation in the performance and recovery context is hardly new. Athletes have been experimenting with cryotherapy, ice packs, ice baths and ice vests for decades. The problem with most of these techniques is that they just don’t work all that well. It has to do with something called vasoconstriction. Overwhelming cold causes blood vessels to constrict, slowing cool blood flow to the core and thus undermining elevated core temperature reduction.

Enter The Glove — an apparent solution to core temperature thermoregulation without all that pesky vasoconstriction courtesy of a team of large brains led by today’s guest — Stanford physiology and biology professor Craig Heller (and his colleague David Grahn).

Essentially a plastic hand enclosure attached to a pump that circulates cool water across the palm’s special network of radiator-like heat-transfer veins that specialize in something called rapid thermal exchange (RTX), the glove overcomes the vasoconstriction dilemma by strictly regulating the temperature of the cool water (cool but not too cool) and by creating a slight vacuum around the hand that keeps the blood vessels open. Cool blood then gets distributed directly to the core organs most in need of relief, allowing the body to chill out and the muscles to keep producing energy.

Early studies show promise. Positive anecdotal stories are many. A seasoned gym rat and friend of Heller’s lab increased his pull-up maximum from 180 to over 620 in less than six weeks by utilizing the glove in between sets. The result seems to neutralize muscle fatigue by cooling core temperature, allowing the subject to push himself or herself harder each workout, resulting in quantum improvement realized in a fraction of the time.

Heller deems the rate of improvement unprecedented, exceeding gains expected via steroid use.

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows. I don’t. But I do know that industrial versions of the product are already being used by a litany of college & NFL football programs; the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs: USA Olympic team programs like men’s beach volleyball and speed skating; the Nike Oregon Project running team; and perhaps most notably, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Champion German soccer team used the glove throughout training and World Cup competition.

Disclaimer: I have zero professional or financial affiliation with AVAcore (the company behind the glove) or Professor Heller (aside for the fact that he was my human biology professor in 1986). In fact, I’ve never even tried the technology (although I want to). I heard about it and reached out to professor Heller to learn more. He obliged me. This podcast is the result. That’s it.

Of course, this conversation explores the impact of thermoregulation on human physiology, athletic performance and recovery. It surveys how emerging technologies are helping athletes excel beyond previously imagined capabilities. But perhaps most compelling is a pondering of the practical and philosophical implications of such performance enhancing developments on the future of fair sport.

Where do you draw the line between fair play and unfair performance enhancing advantage? 

I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section below.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this most interesting exchange.

Peace + Plants,

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SHOW NOTES

AVAcore: Information on the CoreControl & RTX gloves at: AVAcore.com & Indiegogo

Background, Context & Reference:

Academic Studies:

Notable People/Groups Discussed in today’s podcast:

  • Wim Hof: Meditation & cold exposure expert

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy:

Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson.

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