Athletic wear: short shorts to NASA-engineered

By Justin Azevedo

While athletic clothing of the past may be hilarious to look at, performance has always been behind the design.

Today, even our everyday clothing — shirts, pants, shoes, etc. — are designed with performance in mind. Design can start with something as simple as how quickly a pair of pants can dry but athletes need their clothing to go further than that.

“I think the clothes make you more mobile,” said Eric Dzwilewski, the quarterback of the Dinos football team. “At the very least you don’t have to worry about the clothes slowing you down because they’re stuck to your body.”

The biggest selling point of Under Armour, one of the largest sportswear brands, is a technology that transfers sweat from the surface of the body to the outside of the clothes making the body cooler — pores are not blocked by sweat and heat can vent freely. This wicking action is something you won’t find in a cotton t-shirt, where the sweat soaks through the fabric on both the inside and outside of the clothes.

“The cold gear is pretty cool,” says Dzwilewski of Under Armour’s clothing designed for use in cold environments. “It’s able to keep the sweat away from your body and keep your core temperature low enough that you won’t be artificially dehydrated, but it keeps you from freezing your ass off on the football field.”

The difference between this fabric and a frozen cotton t-shirt is, needless to say, immense, especially with a sport like football where equipment might need to be vary for different positions. One of the most intriguing pieces is the ‘sleeve,’ a compression chamber for the arm. According to the Journal of Sports Sciences, compression gear can impact an athlete’s recovery time quite heavily — a study claims a 27 per cent quicker recovery time after five minutes of strenuous activity to the part of the body with the compression gear on.

“It keeps your arm really warm and that’s what you want as a quarterback. Keeping [the arm] tight is important — it prevents injury and helps to make sure there isn’t extra muscle movement when you’re throwing. I think it has helped my accuracy for sure.”

But as is the case with any debate that contains reasonable doubt, there are those who suggest the benefits from this type of clothing are mostly placebo. Certainly there are instances where you could directly observe the effect of the clothing in wicking away sweat, but you wouldn’t be able to see the actual effect on a bicep. Dzwilewski agrees with the suggestions of the placebo effect, at least on the surface.

“I think it can be more mental than anything else — you don’t really have to worry about the clothes while they’re on and they’re tight on your skin.”

But for Dzwilewski, a placebo effect is just fine.

“If it’s going to make me play better out on the field, then it’s great — whether or not it’s in my head or actually happening, if I think it makes me better then I’m all for it.”

NASA developed spin-offs, consisting of athletic wear based on technologies and materials developed for the space program. In the 1984 Summer Olympics, the American team used ‘riblets’ — NASA designed sportswear with v-shaped grooves with angles that point in the direction of air flow. The same technologies were used in competition swimsuits.

According to the NASA website, the swimsuits “were found to bring competition results 10 to 15 per cent faster than similar swimsuits.”

Although this doesn’t mean you can put on a NASA designed swimsuit and turn into Michael Phelps, it can perhaps cut your speed down by 0.2 seconds, the difference between the first and second world record for the 100-metre freestyle.

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