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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

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