A die hard group of students helped test the theory in data gathering sessions that required them to run on treadmills with wires run up their noses and sensors pinned to their chests to measure body heat.
"We're looking for metabolic markers for fatigue. So we're really using these to set up different thermal parameters during exercise," says Stanford researcher Dennis Grahn, Ph.D.
Grahn and fellow biologist Craig Heller, Ph.D., believe that controlling heat is the holy grail of making muscles perform better and recover faster. The theory is that heat sensitive enzymes cause muscles to fatigue at certain temperatures to prevent our bodies from becoming dangerously overheated.
"So if you pull that heat out of the muscle, the muscle keeps on working. That improves endurance, but it also means that any individual workout can be greater. Greater intensity and greater duration," explains Heller.
To accomplish that, Grahn and Heller have developed a device originally known as the cooling glove. They say it takes advantage of specialized blood vessels in the palm of the hand that evolved as a kind of radiator for the blood stream when early humans were covered with hair.
"When we're overheated we're actually dumping most of our heat through the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet and our face, even though we're not furred," says Heller.
The glove works in two stages. First a built-in vacuum helps expand the blood vessels in the palm so they don't constrict. Then cooled water circulates through the glove, dissipating the heat. In early tests the team cooled athletes' palms in between sets while they were working out, and reported significant increases in performance.
"It's true. The results we get on strength conditioning are better than what had been reported for steroids," Heller says.
Current studies are also focusing on endurance, and the relationship between temperature and muscle recovery.
The device is already being used by several professional teams as well as the Stanford football program.
A company called Avacore is already selling a commercial version of the glove under the name Core Control, retailing for just under $1,000.
Written and produced by Tim Didion.