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Cooling your palms enables you to bench press more weight

February 9th, 2010

Another result from the Department of Weird and Unexpected Ergogenic Aids… A forthcoming paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, by researchers at the University of New Mexico, finds that cooling your palms between sets of bench press allows you to lift more weight.

The details: 16 subjects performed four sets of bench press at 85% of one-rep max, with three minutes rest. Between sets, they stuck their hands in a Rapid Thermal Exchanger, which heats or cools while applying a negative pressure. Their palms were either heated to 45 C (113 F), cooled to 10 C (50 F), or left at room temperature. Sure enough, they lifted more when their palms were cooled, including a remarkable 30 percent increase in the second set.

So what does this tell us? Well, for one thing, it tells us that people are going to start buying Rapid Thermal Exchangers, or at least bring ice packs into the weight room. But more interestingly — and this is becoming quite a theme on this blog — it adds new evidence in support of the “central governor” model.

If cooling our palms (which are far away from the muscles involved) allows us to lift more weight when lifting to failure, this tells us that the “failure” wasn’t due to some mechanism in the muscle fibres themselves. Instead, when the input to the central nervous system was altered by triggering cold sensors far away from the relevant muscle, the shut-down signal didn’t get sent to exhausted muscles quite as soon. It’s far from clear exactly what’s happening with this weird effect, but the researchers are quite confident that it has something to do with centrally mediated nerve signals — and thus adds support to the idea of a central governor.

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