This is a story about sports and innovation.
It begins 20 years ago on the front lines of the war in Iraq and its central character flew jets in the Navy off aircraft carriers.
But make no mistake, it is a sports story.
During that period, the U.S. was in the midst of its advance on Baghdad in the Iraq invasion following an earlier front in Afghanistan. The initial advance had to be halted, not due to enemy fire, but because troops were becoming overheated and fatigued in the intense desert heat.
As a result, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA), which serves as the military’s research and development arm, was tasked with developing a solution to improve the performance and safety of American troops in combat situations. DARPA evaluated technology from the world’s best and brightest, landing on one technology team out of Stanford University.
Biologists Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn had made a revolutionary discovery: the palms of the hands and soles of the feet serve a special function as the body’s radiators. They proved that controlling the body’s core temperature was the most effective way to maintain strength and endurance under extreme physical duress, developing a device that could cool core body temperature through a person’s extremities in minutes.
This device would become known as CoolMitt.
“The device is the result of years of work refining and improving the technology,” Heller said. “The technology dramatically increases stamina and physical conditioning by tapping into the body’s own mechanisms for extracting the heat that impairs performance and work capacity.”
Heller and Grahn, who still advise CoolMitt, spent a decade testing the technology in a variety of settings, such as athletic, occupational and medical environments. They found that by precisely controlling core temperature, they were able to increase strength and endurance by more than 50 percent in some cases.
The demand amongst high-performance athletes, in particular, has been significant, but the product has value for anyone working in extreme heat and in need of enhanced endurance.
“We knew the technology could deliver enormous contributions to the sports performance market, but we’ve been blown away by the demand based on word of mouth alone,” said Craig Gile, president and co-founder at CoolMitt—the human performance technology startup that now manufactures and markets Heller’s and Grahn’s innovation.
Today, hundreds of elite athletes are using CoolMitt to optimize performance including MVPs in the NBA and MLB, All-Stars across all leagues, Olympic medalists, Tour de France teams, UFC fighters and more. In all, there are athletes competing in 40 sports and more than 85 professional and NCAA programs are working with CoolMitt.
Drew Dalman, the former Stanford offensive lineman and current Atlanta Falcons center, is one of them. He was an early CoolMitt customers and continues to use CoolMitt.
“For about a year and a half now, I’ve been using it when I can—in training sessions when I’m lifting and I plan on using it this year for a few of the outdoor games in between drives,” Dalman said. “If I’m doing conditioning for a prescribed yardage, I feel I can hold a higher percentage of my speed for more reps—where previously if I’m going 100 percent the first time, that begins to tail off pretty quickly and by the third or fourth rep I’m down at like 60 percent. Whereas with the ‘Mitt,’ I’m staying closer to that 75 percent level.”
CoolMitt uses chilled liquid that runs through the patented Mitt, worn on the hand, in a process known as “vasocooling.” This accelerates the cooling of core body temperature more quickly than the body can do on its own and enables improved performance, faster recovery and enhanced safety when performing physical tasks. The device is portable and rechargeable, offering up to eight hours on a single charge.
“When you hear some of the reports of the strength gains from using CoolMitt, it seems impossible,” said Thomas Gesser, assistant Olympic sports performance coach at Stanford University, one of dozens of universities and professional sports teams using CoolMitt. “But when you understand the science and actually use it, you definitely see the results. CoolMitt would benefit every sport we have here.”
Most recently, CoolMitt was spotted in use at the PGA Tour stop in Atlanta at the FedEx Cup Championships, and moving forward, Gile sees only upside and expanded uses for the technology, which sells for under $1,000.
“I was in the military,” he said. “I flew planes in the Navy and I understand the necessity for why this was developed. But we’re now able to bring CoolMitt technology to anyone who wants to enhance their performance—Armed Forces, professional sports, weekend warriors or whomever. Whether it’s for competitions, their own personal fitness, or to improve their overall strength and stamina—CoolMitt is a game changer.”