Category Archives: summer

Palm Cooling in the Heat Helps Resistance and Endurance Performance

Palm cooling is an effective way to keep cool during workouts.

It may also be a good way to keep cool in hot places in general. Core temperature is a key factor limiting ability to exercise in heat. Once your temperature hits a certain point your brain will tell you to slow down or stop. We have probably all heard the phrases:

  • “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (know where you are on this equation)
  • And etc.

But there is a time to slow down. And a time to stop. Overheating can be dangerous. And even deadly. Still, there are always some people (present company included) who hate it when logic doesn’t go our way. We have a plan and a program. And we made a commitment to ourselves or others.  You are not a loser. And you are not having a bad day. But you may be overheated. Stay hydrated (but not over-hydrated), workout in the early morning and don’t expect to be at your best in hot weather.
There is one more thing:

Palm cooling and training in the heat

Humans cool themselves by sweating. They also cool themselves by shunting blood away from the core and towards highly vascularized areas (lots of veins and capillaries). This is why your face gets red and your hands sweat. Your body is hoping that the outside temperature is not as hot as your core. Your body is also taking advantage of the cooling effect of evaporating sweat by passing blood close to the skin. Your palms are a great place to lose extra heat. As is your face. And probably your whole head. And some other more personal areas.

Palm cooling may be the easiest to do and attract the least attention in public. Researchers at Stanford University have shown that palm cooling before a workout lets endurance athletes train longer. They have also recently published a paper showing that palm cooling between weight lifting sets improves lifting performance. Three minutes of palm cooling between sets also allowed test subjects to make greater gains in strength and numbers of reps.  Its not that cold palms make you stronger.  Well.  Probably not.  Its probably that a cooler person can train better than an overheated one.

How to do Palm Cooling.

The system at Stanford used a fairly complicated device. The device is not available for commercial use anyway. But there are other ways to cool your palms. They haven’t been tested. Or validated. But you can try taking along a frozen hand towel. Or a frozen water bottle.

Grahn DA, Cao VH, Nguyen CM, Liu MT, & Heller HC (2012). Work volume and strength training responses to resistive exercise improve with periodic heat extraction from the palm. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26 (9), 2558-69 PMID: 22076097

CrossFit training: Heat dissipation is key to athletic performance

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Work on the effects of heat on athletic performance continues (see earlier post “What are we fighting when we try to push through a challenging workout” for in depth discussion). This is an important area of research for most of us because heat may be the limiting factor in performance. You body will try its best to make you stop exercising when your brain temperature reaches a certain level. Muscle cells will also start to function poorly when they are heat stressed. This is due, in part of in whole, to the sensitivity of enzymes which tend to require a pretty narrow temperature range in order to work. Exercise can raise muscle temperature above this range causing enzyme function to drop and muscle cell resources to plummet. Cooling to normal temperature will allow enzymes to return to optimal function and will allow you to resume activity faster.

Cooling speeds recovery “better than steroids.”  At CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Many animals, including humans, have heat transfer mechanisms. Excess body heat can be directed outwards by directing blood flow to the surface of highly perfused regions. Dog tongues are examples here, as are the ears of jack rabbits. In people facial tissue and tissue in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet serve as heat dissipators. This is probably why some people get so red in the face during runs and workouts. It may also be why some people swear by barefoot running. They may enjoy the feel of it, but they may just plain be able to go longer, harder and faster because their feet are uninsulated by thick layers of synthetic cushioning.

Researchers at Stanford University are working on a glove (not a pair of gloves; apparently one works just fine) that is effective at rapid cooling. It involves circulating cool water around the hand while applying gentle suction. It looks a lot like having a hand encased in an ironing board: not quite ready for in-play use. Let us know you devise something lower tech and tell us how it worked for you.

Grahn DA, Cao VH, & Heller HC (2005). Heat extraction through the palm of one hand improves aerobic exercise endurance in a hot environment. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 99 (3), 972-8 PMID: 15879169