No more Ice Baths – Cycling innovation No2
More on the next steps in cycling innovation [going to combine the top 10 innovations in an easy ebook asap; you are welcome to sign up to our newsletter
As you may have seen in the Olympics 2012, when track cyclists are preparing for races, they wore ‘Adipower’ trousers developed at Loughborough University, which basically are heated, battery-powered strips to keep the muscles warm and thus deliver an increase in power when the race begins (Guardian’s Hot Pants article).
Well it seems from research in Stanford that this was only step one, and Biology researcher Dennis Grahn claims that a new focus on ‘mammalian thermoregulation’ is “Equal to or substantially better than steroids … and it’s not illegal.” For more than a decade now, Grahn and biology Professor H. Craig Heller have been pursuing a serendipitous find: by taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, they can rapidly cool athletes’ core temperatures – and dramatically improve exercise recovery and performance.
As with innovation (1) this development all comes from observing nature. Black bears are extremely well-insulated animals, equipped with a heavy coat of fur and a thick layer of subcutaneous fat that help them maintain their body temperature as they hibernate through winter. But once spring arrives and temperatures rise, these same bears face a greater risk of overheating than of hypothermia. The question is then; how do they dump heat without changing insulation layers? Well as you may remember from biology class, mammals transfer heat to the environment through extensive networks of veins very close to the surface of the skin – rabbits with their ears, dogs with their tongues and bears with the bottom of their paws. These veins – or arteriovenous anastomses (AVAs) – can have as much as 60 percent of the total cardiac output in blood flowing through them during times of hot weather or exercise.
What does this all mean for our athlete?
Well we are all familiar with cold-water immersion after high-intensity exercise to speed recovery – essentially what you are doing is reducing tissue
temperature, exerts local effects on blood flow, cell swelling and metabolism (as review Extreme physiology and medicine 2013). However additionally sports science is now firmly recognising that exercise and more importantly raising muscle temperature (I can’t find the exact 2009 breakthrough article, but this is an excellent read from Sports Medicine on The exercise-induced stress response of skeletal muscle, with specific emphasis on humans) causes signalling pathways, such as Muscle Pyruvate Kinase (MPK) to become inactive (due to the enzyme structure changing as we approach the 104 Fahrenheit mark in muscles). Of course this makes biological sense as if this heat continues for too long the cell (lets been dramatic) would self-destruct. Furthermore this means that when we consider ‘Heat’ in competition we shouldn’t just look at dehydration and illness (solid article on that at Ultrarunning.com)….. and thats exactly what the Stanford lot are doing.
Using a rigid plastic mitt, the team has created a ‘glove’ device which produces a slight vacuum in the palm, drawing blood into the AVAs. The blood is cooled by water circulating through the plastic lining and it appears that at certain temperatures (AVAs cut off in the extreme cold) muscle fatigue is drastically reduced. In a throwback to science in the 50s – love it – the lab got one of their colleagues to do pull-ups using this equipment. In ” six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620…..a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented.”. Already this technology and versions of the glove – surely sock additions or something – are being tested by the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Man Utd. Don’t be surprised if the next velodrome crash in the Olympics, leaves a big puddle on the track – this technology will no doubt be used to improve on-the-track performance and promote recovery right at the point of ‘damage’.
Well alright you probably would have to do the ice baths as well, but perhaps some cold pants would reduce the time in the cold freeze!