New generation of cooling jackets to reduce the body temperature of elite athletes

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RMIT University researchers have pioneered a new generation of ‘pre-event’ cooling jackets to reduce the body temperature of elite athletes.

Together with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), a team from RMIT Science, Engineering and Technology have used molecular technology to give Australian athletes a distinct advantage in preparing for major competitions such as the Olympics.

The technology used is superior to materials adopted for the ‘Ice Jackets’ developed by the AIS for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Athletes using ice and frozen gel-based cooling vests have experienced shivering reactions and a dramatic increase in blood flow to the head, causing discomfort and headaches.

The RMIT team, led by Professor David Mainwaring, Dean of Research and Innovation in Science, Engineering and Technology, and including Professor Robert Shanks, Professor of Polymer Science, and their Post Doctoral Fellows, have employed new molecular materials that enable heat to be withdrawn from the body at temperatures closer to normal skin temperatures. This results in more efficient and effective cooling processes.

Professor Mainwaring, who worked with Ms Dorothy Forster, the principle garment designer and Adjunct Professor Ralph Wollner from the School of Fashion and Textiles on the project, said Australian athletes have already begun to use the jackets in the lead-up to the August Olympics.

These advanced cooling jackets, together with the AIS’s expertise in elite athlete cooling physiology, provide sports-specific techniques for pre-event cooling in hot and humid conditions. Tests carried out by the AIS on teams of elite cyclists have shown significant improvements to power and event times under conditions of extreme heat.

“There is only a matter of seconds in the difference between a medal and no medal, or the colour of the medal,” Professor David Mainwaring said.

Cooling the body prior to an event can reduce circulatory and thermoregulatory strain, reduce the reliance on sugar stores, and reduce physical and emotional stress. Therefore an athlete’s performance is enhanced and it increases ‘time to exhaustion’ under such hot and humid conditions.

Professor Wollner said uses for the vest were endless. “The jacket could be used for multiple sclerosis sufferers and for emergency therapeutic cooling of brain injury patients, for example.”

“The Australian cricket team has asked for four jackets to trial in the test matches in Darwin, and the AIS Cricket Academy will be testing them in the sub-continent.”

“We are excited by the commercial prospects of this project. Plans for the commercialisation of the jacket are being developed”, Professor Wollner said.

Funding for the research phases was provided by the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Research Council.

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