Two-time Olympian Cam McKenzie-McHarg couldn’t quite believe no one had come up with the idea already.
Technique is the key to preventing sports injuries and what gives the performance edge, so evaluating it is a fundamental part of any athlete’s training.
As a rower in the Australian Olympic team, McKenzie-McHarg and his crew were used to training with a stripe down the side of their gear.
The stripe allowed trainers to track their form, as it showed if they were curving their back too much and gave a crude impression of where they were pivoting from as they moved.
Working out on dry land, the trainers might instead use tape on certain points of the body or draw on the athlete’s clothing as markers.
It was more technical in the motion lab, where biomechanic experts hooked the athletes up to sensors; a more accurate way of analysing technique, but also expensive and not practical for everyday training.
McKenzie-McHarg, who started his performance sportswear line 776bc (the year of the first Olympic games) after the 2012 London Games, thought there must be another way.
He teamed up with the Victorian Institute of Sport and performance consultants BAT Logic, and two years later launched a line of sportswear that has been called a “world first”. The Australian rowing team has already signed on.
“The concept is based on medically and biomech-lab proven markers being used on a high tech suit that allows anyone to analyse their movements for training, rehab or simply learning a new skill like weight lifting or golf,” explains Dr Ed Wittich, performance innovation director at BAT Logic.
“The most important part is that it is simply clothing that you can put on, it has no restriction to movement, is low cost and can be used anywhere.”
Two weeks ago they launched the Motion line which features the “key pivot point” markers, typically used in a motion lab environment, to give athletes and trainers visual feedback on their technique. By bringing the lab-based technology to the masses, it has the potential to change the way the public trains. The clothing price ranges from $80-$170.
“This is a big step forward for performance wear, and will change the way athletes and coaches train worldwide,” says McKenzie-McHarg. “Unlike every other piece of sports clothing available in the market today, every line and marker, every piece of visual design, is there for a purpose.”
He said it was initially designed with elite sportspeople in mind but had “great value” for the everyday athlete.
“It offers the real advantage of being able to very quickly analyse a movement, to be able to determine where that technical error is originating from, process and analyse that information very quickly and be able to give the athlete real specific feedback and cues about how to go about correcting it,” said Dr Harry Brennan, the strength and conditioning co-ordinator at Victorian Institute of Sport.
“The main advantage for trainers is it revolutionises their approach to training athletes.”
Exercise physiologist and owner of See Change fitness Lisa Parkes can see the appeal.
“It gives you a bit more of a visual cue to look at the alignment and integrity of your knees and hips,” she said. “It’s a useful diagnostic tool.”
Parkes, who is also an exercise rehabilitation specialist, added that the gear was only helpful if you knew what you to look for.
“For the average person who buys them in the shop and you go to do a squat and you don’t know how to do it properly and you don’t know which dot is meant to line up with which line it’s not going to be helpful,” she said.
She also wouldn’t find the line helpful as a trainer in a big class.
“But if you were doing a one-on-one or a structural integrity assessment – as a tool for that, it would be great.”
Typically, if she was doing a postural assessment, she would use a broomstick or a plumb line to see if a person’s spine was straight or their hips were aligned.
“With the prints as they are on the clothing you wouldn’t need those external tools because it’s easier to see,” she says. “It does seem very simple and it’s amazing no one has thought of it before.”