Cooler Heads

A cross between a sponge and a pro wrestling mask may provide a performance breakthrough
November 02, 2015

ASHTON EATON always found that wrapping his head in a wet towel after running felt good, so he wondered if there might be a more high-tech way to accomplish the task. Eaton, the U.S.'s top decathlete, believes that the difficulty of his sport lies not so much in each individual discipline, but in maximizing performance in each discipline. So he turned to the Nike Sports Research Lab earlier this year for help keeping his cool between events.

"Overheating was a challenge," explained Sandy Bodecker, vice president of special projects at Nike, "especially during the high jump and the pole vault when there was so much time spent on the field, and [Eaton] asked how we could speed up his recovery between his short, explosive actions." The result of Eaton and Nike's collaboration was a cooling hood that makes Eaton look like a cross between a track star and a Mexican luchador.

Nike used a 3-D scan of Eaton's head to design the tight-knit stretch-fabric hood for maximum coverage. Before each use the hood is immersed in cool water and the Super Absorbant Fiber in the fabric chemically binds to the liquid, making the hood soft and pliable with an even feel and weight. Nike is still studying the exact physiological effects of the hood, but the company knows that cooling the face reduces the hormone response to exercise and stimulates the same reflex as diving into cold water, which counteracts the usual rise in heart rate during exercise. In studies, facial cooling has also made athletes feel cooler overall and reduced their perception of their exertion.

If results in the field are any indicator, the hood seems to be a hit. At the world championships in Beijing in August, the 27-year-old from Oregon set a points world record (9,045) and a decathlon record for the 400 meters (45.00 seconds).

Stretch fabric chemically bonds to liquid

Cheek flaps maximize facial cooling

Top venting allows heat to escape

Magnetic rim holds sunglass lens

+ See O2

Losing weight relies on a simple equation: Burn more energy than you consume. Caloric information is easy to find on labels and websites, but knowing how fast you burn calories is trickier.

Enter Breezing, a handheld device that measures the oxygen consumption rate and carbon dioxide production rate in a single breath to determine metabolism. "When we take in food, we consume oxygen and produce energy plus carbon dioxide," explains Erica Forzani, one of Breezing's cofounders and an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Arizona State. Knowing how much O2 someone is removing from the air and how much CO[subscript 2] he or she is adding allows Breezing to determine the type and level of chemical reactions taking place, which can be translated into a measure of energy expenditure.

And that helps, whether you're a boxer trying to lose weight or a football player trying to gain.

—T.T.

PHOTOCOURTESY OF NIKE (HOOD) PHOTOCOURTESY OF BREEZING

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)