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Muscles may get a boost from cool palms

By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

7:02 PM EDT, July 25, 2010

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You're going for one last set of bench presses, but fatigue is setting in. Do you reach for a sports drink? Look to your trainer for motivation? A new study suggests you may want to cool your palms.

Cooling muscles between weight-lifting sets has shown in some studies to be helpful in tamping down muscle fatigue. But researchers wanted to know if similar results could be achieved by cooling an area that doesn't include active muscles -- the palms.

The study included 16 men in good health who had been involved in regular, intense weight training for at least five years. For the exercise portion of the study, the participants did three series of bench presses at 85% of maximum effort. In one scenario, in between sets their palms were cooled for 2 1/2minutes at 50 degrees, in another they were heated at 113 degrees, and in another they went through no changes in temperature.

The men were also asked to rate how hard they thought the workout was. Gel electrodes were placed on various muscles to determine their electrical activity.

Cooling the palms between sets allowed the participants to significantly increase bench press repetitions to exhaustion compared with the other scenarios. Having cooler palms also resulted in lower heart rates and a lower level of perceived exertion than the other conditions.

Researchers believe that cooling the hands may supersede feelings of fatigue during intense sets of exercise.

"The practical application of our findings might be to improve the quality of resistance training and, subsequently, enhance training adaptations and performance during strength or power activities," the study authors wrote. They added that the findings could have applications in exercise therapy, perhaps improving results.

The study appears in the August issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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