When it comes to products designed to enhance athletic performance, the marketplace is full of options. There’s apparel that’s specially designed to enhance speed. Balls with state-of-the-art aerodynamic technology that affects their trajectory. There are even accessories that are thought to utilize the tenets of New Age philosophy to align the wearer’s chi, thereby making an athlete's gait as effortless as that of a winged cheetah with the wind at his back.
Manufacturers claim their products can make anyone run faster, jump higher, and increase endurance. Some of these claims have been proven, both on the athletic field and in the laboratory. At the same time, other products have nothing more going for them than anecdotal evidence and the placebo effect. In other words, some of products work, some might not and some have nothing going for them but an effective marketing campaign. But as long as athletes continue their quest to get the edge on their competition, the products will continue to sell, whether they work or not.
What are some of the more notable products available on the market today that are said to enhance athletic performance? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 29 July 2011
The LZR Racer is a swimsuit by Speedo, the world’s leading swimwear manufacturer. It was introduced in February 2008 after a grueling design collaboration between Comme des Garçons, the Australian Institute of Sport, and the wind tunnel testing facilities of NASA.
Composed of polyurethane and spandex, and developed with the help of fluid analysis software, the suit gained notice during the 2008 Summer Olympics when it was worn by champion swimmer Michael Phelps. It’s not without its downsides, such as the 20 minutes that it can sometimes take to put it on. That’s a small price to pay, though, to get the performance benefits it brings.
When the Polara Golf Ball was introduced in 1977, the straight-flying ball delighted amateur golfers everywhere, and it sold by the thousands. Its dimpled design corrected slices and hooks, causing it to automatically fly straight as its name implied. It was banned by the U.S. Golf Association, however, for failing to comply with a symmetry requirement. When it was discontinued in 1985, mass despair ensued.
Fast forward 25 years. A May 2011 article about the ball in The New York Times brought it a renewed rush of attention. In the article, former Callaway engineer and Polara executive Dave Felker said that the ball is meant to lure amateurs to the sport and is not intended for professionals. "It’s for the other golfers, the ones who rarely hit it straight," he told the Times. "It’s for people who want to be embarrassed less, play faster, and enjoy it more."
adiZero is a line of shoes from Adidas with a lightweight design meant to help athletes maximize speed. It was launched in 2010 and first seen on Uruguayan footballer Diego Forlán at the Europa League Final. A short time later, at the World Cup in South Africa, they were on the feet of several players, including Argentina's Lionel Messi.
In April 2011, Adidas unveiled the latest addition to the adiZero line, the Crazy Light, which is intended for basketball. It’s the lightest basketball shoe on the market, weighing in at less than 10 ounces. Its designer Robbie Fuller has said of the shoe, "Any lighter and we’d have to paint it on.”
Gatorade sports drink was developed in 1965 at the University of Florida and named after its sports team, the Gators. The drink is said to replenish the body with materials lost through exercise, and the first version did this with such ingredients as water, potassium, and lemon juice. Its usefulness to the sweaty athlete for anything more than hydration has been debated for years, but it continues to be associated with athletic replenishment just the same.
In 2010, the company introduced G-Series, a line of beverages intended for consumption before, during, and after athletic exertion. "Prime 01" is a gel to be consumed before the big game, the "Perform 02" line is for halftime or the seventh-inning stretch, and "Recover 03" is a post-exercise protein drink with the consistency of regular Gatorade.
Many products designed for training athletes in one sport have been embraced by players in others. One example is Jumpsoles, which were originally invented for basketball players. They’re now used by a wide variety of athletes in such sports as martial arts and figure skating.
Jumpsoles are essentially weights worn on the soles of shoes, similar to lifts. The excess weight strengthens the wearer’s leg muscles, and the end result may be a basketball player who can jump higher, or a practitioner of mixed martial arts with powerful, lightning-speed kicks.
Vectran is a fiber made from liquid crystal polymers that’s thinner than human hair and relatively cheap to manufacture. Nike uses it in the upper part of many of its shoes, where it defies both logic and physics by providing solid support and a light weight.
Nike’s Zoom Victory Spike uses the fiber, which brings the shoe in at a whopping 93 grams. As Nike itself so succinctly put it, the sneaker has "the weight of a Snickers chocolate bar with a bite taken out."
One of the more esoteric forms of alternative medicine is magnotherapy, in which magnetic fields are applied to the body for alleged physical benefit. It’s not recognized by the larger medical community, and no peer-reviewed study has ever found it to have the benefits its proponents say it has. Still, it has its believers, and they wear magnets in their clothes and jewelry, ingest it in dietary supplements, and apply it to their skin with creams. Even water has been sold that is said to contain the healing properties of the magnet.
Magnotherapy has fans in the athletic field, too, and it is to these individuals that Trion:Z Direct sells the Trion:Z LITE wristband. According to its website, the wristband is “loaded with negative ion producing minerals that are molded into the magnet housing,” and it “utilizes twin 1,000 Gauss magnets arranged in a unique Alternating North-South Polarity Orientation (ANSPO™) that increases the penetration of the magnetic field.” Well, that explains everything!
Professional baseball players regularly practice swings against pitching machines, which fire balls with a clockwork regularity that no human pitcher could ever duplicate. Many batters use smaller balls than standard-sized baseballs to improve accuracy, making the Grand Slam Wiffle Ball Pitching Machine an ideal aid for batting practice.
The balls are the size of those used in golf and feature an irregular design, giving each one a slightly different spin than the last one. It can fire as many as 150 balls in 10 minutes, and it launches them at odd intervals, just to keep you on your toes.
Cooling vests regulate the wearer’s body temperature, and are used wherever temperatures can reach unbearable highs. Athletes use them prior to competition, and they were particularly handy during the 2004 Olympics in Greece and the 2008 Olympics in hot and humid Beijing.
Nike’s PreCool Vest has two layers. The inner layer is filled with frozen water, and the aluminum-coated outer layer preserves the cold. When the vest is worn one hour before competition, it has been shown to increase athletic endurance by 21 percent. Sadly, the Nike model was designed specifically for Olympic athletes and is not available to the general public.
The hologram bracelet is a close relative of the magnetic wristband. It claims to harness a technology, the hologram, and use its power to enhance the wearer’s athletic performance. Although its powers are as yet unproven, major athletes, such as David Beckham and Shaquille O’Neal, wear them, and race car driver Rubens Barrichello said that he would never remove it from his body.
The brand of hologram bracelet that Barrichello wears is called Power Balance. In the "How Does the Hologram Work?" section of its Frequently Asked Questions web page, the company describes the technology thusly: "The thin polyester film hologram is programmed through a proprietary process, which is designed to mimic Eastern philosophies that have been around for hundreds of years."