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How Sports Brands Are Using Technology to Improve Your Performance

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When we consider our performance of any active pastime, the majority of us instantly assume that our natural aptitude for it, along the time and dedication we devote to it, are directly correlated to how well we do. Someone with naturally long and strong legs who trains hard, eats well and rests appropriately will probably be good runner, no? However, there is another factor substantially affecting our performance in sport and that is technology.

When Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub 2hr marathon in October last year, his obvious natural ability and dedication to his training, the favourable course and the perfect conditions on the day were only the beginning of this symbolic achievement in athletics. The rest of the story is devoted to the science and technology of running fast. From the portions of the road that were specially painted with lines to show the fastest possible path, to the carefully selected running kit worn by Kipchoge (including a pair of Nikes built around carbon fibre plates), nothing was left to chance. It was a carefully calculated and meticulously planned attempt and its success is testament to the power of technology to push a fantastic performance into a ground breaking one. 

Whilst most of us do not have the talent of Kipchoge or budget of petrochemical company INEOS (the organiser of this attempt) it is not hard to see that carefully chosen kit and accessories can have a positive impact on anyone’s sporting performance, not just elite runners. We’ve scoured the sports stores and done our science homework to find out which brands are using technology to develop performance-enhancing kit that is accessible to all of us. We hope you find useful!

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  1. Compression Technology
  2. The Technology of Insulation
  3. Waterproofing Sports Gear
  4. Tech Smart Trainers
  5. Moisture Wicking Tech
  6. Stay Safe Technology

Compression Technology

Woman road running through a wood

How it Works

The sports industry has borrowed compression technology from the medical sector, where it is used to treat circulatory conditions. In sport, compression garments can boost performance by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscles during exercise and aid recovery by assisting the removal of waste products from muscles post-exercise, reducing muscle movement, improving body awareness (also known as proprioception) and reducing muscle damage and inflammation.

Not all compression clothing on the market will improve your performance or hasten your recovery after exercise. Some items sold as ‘compression clothing’ are actually just tight, which makes them more uncomfortable than beneficial. So who should you trust?

Who is Doing it Well?

2XU ("TWO-TIMES-YOU") is a well-recognised industry-leader in sports compression garments and their range has been developed under the guidance of sports scientists. Studies have shown that wearing 2XU compression during a 5km run could improve your time by over 10 seconds and wearing it for cycling could improve blood flow to your quads by 18%. As you would expect from a brand that can back up its claims with stats like these, their range isn’t cheap, but they offer a 30-day money back guarantee, so you don’t have a lot to lose by giving them a try.

Under Armour – If you don’t have the budget for 2XU it is worth giving Under Armour compression gear a try. Their leggings and shorts repeatedly appear in run downs of the best compression garments on the market and they are around half the price of 2XU.

The Technology of Insulation

Man in insulated clothing in the mountains

How it Works

Choosing insulated garments for sport is far more complicated than wrapping up warm for a quick walk and there are a lot of variables to consider to ensure you make the right selection. We lose heat in four ways - conduction, convection, evaporation and radiation – and insulated garments works to retain as much body heat as possible by creating tiny pockets of air close to the skin. As air is a poor conductor of heat, these reduce the amount of heat that can escape from you into your environment. The question is, which materials and garment designs do this best for your favourite cold-weather pastime?

Down v Synthetic Insulation

Traditionally, natural down insulation is favoured over its synthetic counterparts for its warmth-to-weight ratio, its resilience to being packed down small for transportation or storage and its luxurious look and feel. However, if you have ever been caught in a downpour in a down jacket you will know that it takes ages to dry out and is sapping you of valuable heat as it dries. Even with the recent development of water-resistant treatments for natural down, a synthetic insulation option is better if you are frequently out in really wet conditions (just be aware of the extra bulk and that even the best synthetic options will be a bit less warm that a down-filled jacket).

When to wear it

If you are very active in very cold conditions the chances are that most insulated jackets will make you feel over-heated and uncomfortable at some point. The majority of highly insulated jackets on the market are designed to be worn between or after activities, to conserve body heat as you cool down after exercise, not during the activity itself.  

Polartec’s Alpha synthetic insulation (which uses high loft fibres in a low density knit) is probably the closest you will get to breathable insulation that can be worn throughout activity on a cold day, but traditional insulating materials are not compatible with intense activity. If staying warm during rest times is most important to you, choose a jacket that is light weight and can be easily carried when you are working at maximum effort.

Who is Doing it Well?

Arc’teryx – This Canada-based company is inspired by the genuine passion for exploring the wilderness landscape that it calls home. The love of the mountain landscape on the doorstep also fosters a robust sustainability policy, which is underpinned by the importance of product durability and a cyclical economy.

Their range offers purpose made clothing for a range of outdoor pursuits including trail running, skiing, hiking and rock-climbing. The company’s VP of Retail, Megan Cheesebrough, describes the brand as “experts in protecting you from the elements, whether that be on top of a mountain or in a gnarly rainstorm commuting to work in the city”. The brand offers a diverse range of insulated garments and their online product information is truly comprehensive, so you should be able to find something to suit your requirements.

Rab – A British brand founded in 1981 by Rab Carrington that specialises in making clothing and equipment for climbing and mountaineering. It’s product range started with a technical sleeping bag but gradually expanded to encompass all you may need to achieve their brand mission to “awaken the climber in everyone and equip them for the ascent”. Their insulated garments combine the lightest weight materials available with the latest insulation technologies.

Waterproofing Sports Gear

Person in a waterproof jacket

How it Works

Developed from outdoor work wear, waterproof sports gear has posed one of the biggest challenges to textile manufacturers; to create a fabric that prevents water getting in but allows sweat to evaporate away. A waterproof fabric that is not breathable traps sweat inside and leads to over-heating during exercise and chilling immediately afterwards.

Over the last two centuries, the thriving textile industry and the temperate climate have resulted in Britain being the origin of more waterproofing innovations than any other country. However, it was in the 1970s in America that the real breakthrough in breathable waterproofing was made, in the form of GORE-TEX, a micro-porous fabric with a hydrophilic polymer membrane. 

These days GORE-TEX has a lot of competition from similar brands but the basic premise remains the same. When it comes to finding a waterproof, breathable garment for exercise, you need to work out your priorities; no fabric that is 100% waterproof will be breathable, so decide whether waterproofing or breathability is more important for your intended activity. This article from Snow and Rock provides clear and comprehensive advice on choosing your next waterproof garment for sport

Who is Doing it Well?

Berghaus – This UK based company has over 50 years experience in creating functional clothing for outdoor pursuits. Their Fellmaster interactive jackets use GORE-TEX technology, but have the additional feature of allowing you to zip in or remove interchangeable mid layers. This means you can respond appropriately to changes in activity levels or weather conditions without having to carry huge amounts of kit.

Sealskinz - Widely believed to be leading waterproof accessories brand, Sealskinz works on the premise that you need to be the first out and the last home, no matter what conditions you need to contend with in the meantime. Their pioneering waterproof socks, hats and gloves use industry-leading materials to maximise both your comfort and your performance.

Tech Smart Trainers

Person running up steps wearing On Running trainers

How it Works

Anyone who has ever gone for a run in trainers that do not suit their feet will know that not all trainers are manufactured equal. From the softness of the landing, the firmness of the take off, the grip on the sole and the support of the arch to the correction of a dodgy gait, our trainers need to work hard to improve our performance and help us to stay injury-free, whatever terrain we chose to run on. The technology employed in trainers to improve performance centres on minimising energy loss, giving the wearer the potential to run faster and further than they are used to. 

Who is Doing it Well?

Nike - In terms of cutting edge tech in our trainers, Nike get a lot of the limelight and the Vaporfly range has been worn by high-profile record breakers such as Eliud Kipchoge and Paula Radcliffe. Nike claim that the carbon-fibre plates and thick, condensed foam midsole in these trainers reduce energy loss and can make anyone (not just elite athletes) run 4% faster than normal trainers.

On Running – Multi award-winning Swiss brand On was established in 2010, with the mission to create a trainer that provided a soft landing followed by a firm take off, replicating the feeling you would expect if it was possible to run on clouds. Patented CloudTec technology has been used to create a sole that is soft when you land, to cushion the impact, but then hardens to provide a firm base for pushing off into your next stride. It’s pretty clever and you can find out more about it here.

Moisture Wicking Tech

Woman running

How it Works

Wicking fabrics draw moisture away from the body and allow it to evaporate easily. Polyester is considered to be the best moisture wicking fabric, as it only absorbs 0.4% of its weight in water, whereas cotton absorbs around 7%. In a fabric with good wicking properties, water absorbed by the fibre sits in droplets on the fibre’s surface, moving around the fabric by running along the weave and eventually working its way to the outside of the fabric where it will evaporate into the air. This makes a moisture wicking fabric a good choice for garments that are worn during high-sweat conditions, such as vigorous aerobic exercise.

Who is Doing it Well?

Sweaty Betty know that women demand a lot from their workout gear, especially their leggings. Their premium range of leggings is custom made for particular workouts and they are totally honest about the fact that the best fabric for a high intensity session is not suitable for the contortions of yoga or for squats (you need one of their other designs for those activities). 

The Sweaty Betty range intended for running, HIIT and spinning is made from an ultra-lightweight polyamide and elastane blend that wicks away moisture and dries quickly. It also offers 4 way stretch and compression for improved performance and faster recovery. 

Runderwear – there is no point buying the most comfortable, performance enhancing technical t-shirt, shorts, leggings and trainers on the market if you neglect to purchase the right underwear too! No matter what activity you are doing, you will not perform at your best if you are suffering from chaffing.

Runderwear was established by two sporty friends who met at Loughborogh University. Disappointed by the lack of purpose-made underwear for sport, they decided to make their own. Their range of socks, sports bras and pants is seamless, chaff-free and moisture wicking, so that you can forget you are wearing it and get on with performing at your best. FYI, the company's customer service is also excellent and they have a 5 star rating on Trustpilot. 

Stay Safe Technology

Two Cyclists in Proviz jackets cycling at night

How it Works

If your workouts are in public places where you are likely to encounter others (whether on foot, on a bike or in a vehicle) it is essential that they can see you clearly. If you dress entirely in neutral colours you will have to devote more of your attention to ducking and diving out of the way of others, which isn’t very safe and takes focus away from performing at your best.

Traditionally, high viz for sport has been borrowed from the workwear industry and is an after thought for autumn and winter early morning and evening workouts. However, if the only time you can carve out for training is in the dark for several months of the year, you do not want to be compromising your performance with kit that is not custom made for the job. Fortunately, the industry has responded to demand and you can now buy performance enhancing kit for outdoor exercise that is also highly visible to others.

Who is Doing it Well?

ProvizWe don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we really are working hard to ensure that our kit is leading the way, both in terms of visibility and sporting performance. Our signature reflective material is engineered using millions of tiny, highly reflective glass beads, which help you stand out from the crowd. We have adapted and developed this reflective technology in a number of ways over the years to create specialist high performance kit for running, cycling and outdoor pursuits. 

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