Science Scope

Want to (legally) become a super-athlete? Get this glove

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Could this be the end of steroids? A special cooling glove could be the ticket to endless workouts without fatigue.

Okay, so this isn't the most attractive apparatus ever.

But in terms of athletic performance, it can lead you to the results of steroids, without the troubles with the law, acne and male breast enlargement.

Stanford University researchers stumbled upon the benefits of this "cooling glove," which cools down core body temperature after workouts, enabling athletes to recover more quickly and to train more.

Versions of it are now being used by the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders, the Manchester United soccer club and a few college athletic teams, including some of Stanford's, and a commercial version is on its way.

But before you sign up to buy, find out how it works -- and why black bears were the inspiration.

What black bears have to do with it

Black bears are very furry, and they also have a lot of fat on their bodies, both of which help them keep up their body temperatures during winter hibernation. But despite all this insulation, they don't overheat in summer. What Stanford biologists Dennis Grahn and H. Craig Heller discovered is that bears, like nearly all mammals, have have what Stanford News Service calls "built-in radiators."

Basically, these are spots on the body that are mainly devoted to rapid temperature management. They're "hairless areas of the body that feature extensive networks of veins very close to the surface of the skin," according to Stanford.

These networks of veins, called AVAs (arteriovenous anastomoses), can be found in a variety of animals. Rabbits have them in their ears, dogs in their tongues. Bears have them on the pads of their feet and on the tips of their noses.

Humans have them on their faces and feet, but our most prominent AVAs are in our hands -- and that's where the glove comes in.

How the cooling glove improves athletic performance

So, why not just stick your hands in ice water to cool off? Well, it turns out that in extremely cold temperatures, the blood networks in AVAs shut down. So, the cooling down has to be controlled. Hence, the glove.

When slipped on, the glove creates a slight vacuum around the hand. That vacuum draws blood up to the surface of the skin. From there, Goldilocks temperature water flows behind a plastic lining in the glove, cooling down the subject's hand.

The researchers have anecdotal evidence of the glove improving athletic performance, such as in one lab member (Vinh Cao, whose huge arms you won't miss in the video below) who went from doing an average of 180 pull-ups to 620 within six weeks.

The reason cooling seems to give athletes such a quick recovery has to do with a temperature-sensitive enzyme that is used by muscles to generate energy. As the body's temperature rises, this enzyme shuts down.

Cooling the muscle cell brings the enzyme back to its active state, "essentially resetting the muscle's state of fatigue," according to Stanford.

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via: Stanford News Service

photo: screenshot

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure