Cold hands, better exercise

Read an article a couple of weeks ago on Stanford researchers that are inventing a glove that can warm or cool someone’s hands.  (See Stanford’s cooling glove research). They found that the palm is one of the easiest way to warm or cool a body.

Originally they were researching how bears cooled themselves during summer and discovered that certain areas of their skin was optimized for cooling.  These patches of skin had more blood vessels than necessary for nutrient delivery and seemed to be optimized for blood flow and bodily thermal management. In the case of the bears they were studying these thermal control areas happened to be their palms and feet pads.

They next took their idea and created a crude prototype of a warming glove and used it to warm up patients after surgery.  This usually takes the better part of 2-3 hours to do for patients but with their warming glove on, they were able to warm them in a 8-10 minutes instead of hours.

It appears that all mammals have a built in cooling mechanism, for some it’s ears (rabbits), others it’s the tongue (dogs) and for humans and primates it’s their palms and feet pads.  These areas are used primarily for bodily thermal management and is used essentially as a way to cool off hairy mammals such as ourselves.

But why a cooling glove?

Unclear to me where they got the idea but somehow they discovered that one item which limited exercise intensity was the overheating of muscle tissue.  As muscles are exercised they warm up and an enzyme used by muscles to generate energy  heats up it breaks down and starts to work less effectively providing a built in safety switch for muscle overheating.  It turns out that heat is a key item limiting muscle recovery and inducing muscle fatigue.

The researchers found was that cooling the palms after exercise allowed a person to continue to work at their maximum level without fatigue or degradation. In the case of pull ups, they found that a person who was properly cooled could continue to do their maximum pullups time after time, without any reduction in reps.  Indeed one gym rat was able to work themselves from a maximum of 160 pullups to a maximum of 620 pull-ups  in just six weeks. “Better than steroids” and legal.

So the glove is being developed that can be used to cool athletes down. Prototypes are currently in use by Stanford’s football team, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, and Manchester United.

Other potential applications

This is full of much more possibilities than just a cooling glove.  For example,

  • Bicycles – that instead of having insulated handlebars were metal and perforated so that they increased air flow to cool down the palms of bicycle racers
  • Weight machines  – that have hand holds that are suffused with liquids and some sort of a radiator device attachment that would cool the liquid to cool the hands
  • Barbell refrigerators – similar to the above only keeping the bars in a refrigerator to keep them cool to lower the temperature of the palms of weight lifters as they used them to lift weights.  Ditto for dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, etc.
  • Treadmills – that have an onboard cooling mechanism to cool the hands of people using them. Ditto for rowing machines, nordic track, elipticals etc.
  • Tennis rackets – that have perforated handles without any insulation which could be used to cool down tennis players hands. Ditto for racquetball rackets, squash rackets, etc.
  • Baseball bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, etc.  – essentially any other sporting equipment that has a hand held artifact could be improved by having some sort of built in cooling mechanism, or worse case have a cabinet (bag) etc, which could cool these to the proper temperature.

I suppose one key to any of this is what’s the proper cooling temperature and whether any of these sports cause some (any) muscles to overheat.  Perforations could be tailored to reach the proper cooling temperature and for the sport/speed with which the artifact is moved.  Probably another reason for running barefoot or using Vibram five fingers shoes as they seem to cool down the foot pad.

I find myself looking for places to cool my palms between workout sets to reduce fatigue. It may be only psychosomatic because it’s certainly scientifically controlled, but it seems to be helping.  Also when I run/jog nowadays I am doing so with an open hand rather than a closed fist, hoping that this helps cool me down.


I read this a while back and couldn’t stop thinking about all the possibilities inherent in their research. Yes a glove is probably a great, portable and universal way to cool people during exercise but there are so many other possibilities that could much more easily be employed to have the same effect.

Image Credits: bangkok by Roberto Trmbunch o racquets by dennis