By some measures, Michael Phelps may be the world’s greatest athlete. His Olympic medal count alone has secured the American swimmer a place in the history books. And while training and nutrition have most certainly played an enormous impact in his success, would Phelps, his teammates, or any of their competition, have achieved their recent record breaking heights without the help of advanced technology?
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 athlete’s wearing Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit blew the competition out of the water with an astounding 94% of gold medals won, and 23 of the 25 world records broken. The NASA-tested suit worked with the swimmer’s bodies to augment and increase their efficiency by holding the body into its most advantageous position while reducing drag, allowing these athletes to move through the water in a way that would otherwise be impossible. It worked so well that the suit was banned in the London 2012 Olympics, referring to the suits as a form of “technological doping”.
With new regulations for Olympic swimwear set in place, Speedo rose to the task of outdoing themselves. The Fastskin3 system includes a suit made with patented Hydro-K 3D Fabric, which reduces drag up to 3.3%, and still manages to shape an athlete’s body into its most (within regulations) hydrodynamic form. The goggles are, surprisingly enough, the first to be designed based on the natural contours of the human head and face, and, when worn with the Fastskin3 swim cap, the combination is reported to reduce full body drag by up to 6%.
Check out the official commercial describing some of this really amazing stuff:
All thanks to the wonders of technology. As Leisel Jones, Australian Olympic Gold medalist swimmer, put it: “With the Speedo FASTSKIN3 Racing System you feel like you’ve been propelled into the future.”
But drag isn’t just a problem in the pool. US Track & Field athletes, as well as runners from Germany, Russia, and China sported Nike’s AeroSwift. The high-tech material features sections of small dimples, similar to those on a golf ball, that are positioned on parts of the body most affected by air resistance as determined by data gathered from over thousands of hours of wind-tunnel testing. In a sport where the ‘photo-finish’ is common, even a small reduction in time can mean being the first over the line.
Not all the credit can go to the clothes, of course. These people are in peak physical condition. They train relentlessly, and strive to maintain dauntingly healthy lifestyles. But these days, even the strictly disciplined routine of an Olympic hopeful might not stand up to the high-tech competition.
Advanced technologies are also enabling athletes and coaches to gain a better understanding of what happens to the body during competition and practice. This new wealth of available data allows trainers to take into account the health and performance of an athlete, contributing to better decisions.
Take British Olympic gymnast, Mimi Cesar, for example. During her training, Mimi used a vibrating suit and a system of modular sensors attached in key spots on her body. The gear, called MotivePro, tracks her movements through the sensors and provides instant feedback with vibrations if she makes a mistake:
Or American hurdler, Lolo Jones, whose training includes attaching several motion-detection sensors and recording herself with dozens of super high-speed cameras firing off at 2,000 frames per second. This quantitative data allows Lolo and her coaches to identify exactly when, where, and what her body needs to be doing in order to optimize technique:
But you don’t have to be an Olympian to benefit from advances in athletic technologies. The Move concept garment from Electric Foxy takes a similar approach to delivering feedback as Mimi Cesar’s vibrating suit. Except here the focus is clearly on the consumer. The garment works in association with a mobile app to deliver results and comes pre-loaded with ‘movement blueprints’ for anybody who wants to learn a new skill or movement in yoga, Pilates, golf, or more.
While The Move is still a just a concept, consumer training systems like the miCoach from Adidas tie together a suite of products that work together to help athletes of all levels get the most out of their workouts. Putting this technology to the test will be US Major League Soccer, who recently announced an initiative for the 2013 season that will equip every one of its players with the health monitoring sensors for real-time tracking and feedback.
The sensors will be woven into the fabric of the players’ uniforms, enabling coaches to monitor health data such as heart rate during the game via an iPad, as well as access the data following the match for post-game analysis.
And while all of this complex data being captured by these wearable sensors is great, for an amateur athlete, what does it all mean? How do we interpret the results and translate them into meaningful action? That’s the issue that Core Performance, a dynamic system using the intelligence of new Intel processor technology is trying to solve. It aims to deliver a complete virtual personal trainer experience—without the trainer, that is. Core Performance CTO, John Zerden, explains:
We’re automating and perfecting the process of training, using technology to replicate a very individualized, very personal program on a mass scale. You get immediate feedback on the quality of your workout so you know what’s working and what’s not. Like a personal trainer, the feedback from our system motivates you to work harder, better, smarter so you ultimately get fitter, faster.
By having access to precision data about your performance—better yet, about your body itself—these systems may point toward a future in which people are more ‘in touch’ with their physical health and abilities.