In 2007, Dwight Howard donned a Superman cape before leaping to victory in the slam dunk competition. In an attempt to defend his title this weekend (he came in second), Howard topped his own theatrics by entering a phone booth for his annual costume change. The basketball player-cum-superhero returned to the court to dunk, not in a regulation 10-foot basket, but in a 12-foot-high hoop.
While it's natural to attribute such supernatural feats to Howard's freakish physical stature -- or perhaps to the cape around his neck -- it was actually the skintight clothing beneath the cape that produced the boldest and most easily quantifiable performance enhancement. An undergarment described as, not clothing, but equipment, the Adidas Techfit Powerweb contains carefully placed strips of thermoplastic urethane that stores energy like a spring, and lets athletes release it on their villain of choice.
Compression garments are everywhere. Since Under Armour launched the phenomenon, nearly every sporting goods manufacturer has created its own line of Lycra-like moisture-wicking skintight clothing. To our chagrin, it's in every locker room, at every skill level, wrapped tightly around every shape of body. And while Adidas is certain their core garment is significantly better than any other on the market, even without the Powerweb technology, it's the rubber-band-like strips bonded to the Spandex that's of real interest.
So just what special powers can the Powerweb provide? Testing at Adidas and the University of Calgary has quantified the advantage: a 1.1-percent speed increase over 100 yards, a 4-percent higher jump, a 5.3-percent power increase, and a 1.3-percent reduction in oxygen output -- all statistically significant results at an alpha level of 0.05 using 10 subjects. Not exactly faster than a speeding bullet, but it takes a 100-yard dash from 10.0 to 9.9, and lets Howard raise that hoop just a bit higher.
And how exactly does it work? In short, the thermoplastic urethane bands act as simple springs. As an athlete moves, energy is stored in that spring, and that energy is then released as the athlete returns to the original position, providing a small, but statistically significant, push. Squat down while wearing the shorts, and the elastic nature of the bands is immediately apparent. Adidas has studied different sports to find optimal locations where the bands can provide benefits without restricting motion. But who says the additional effort put in to stretch the bands is any less valuable than the energy spike as the spring releases?
"We certainly know through thermodynamics that we can not get more energy out than we get in," said Brady Anderson, a sports researcher with Adidas. "But we also know that you can change the type of energy. In the case of jumping you're using gravity to store potential energy as you squat, and then turning that into kinetic when you jump."
This is awesome. I play baseball and anything to help my game that is legal is awesome. I hope to see it around in the sports stores.
This is some very cool sports science. I wonder how many professional athletes use this stuff.