Clothing as a performance enhancing agent

antelope-suit-couple-trainingThe world of cycling has been rocked over recent years by doping scandals. The tainting of cycling’s biggest event, the Tour de France, has caused massive reputational damage to the sport and there are regular reports of cyclists being caught out using prohibited substances for performance improvement and accelerated injury recovery.

Athletics hasn’t been immune either. A recent report suggests the Women’s 1500 metre race at the London Olympics was tainted with six of the first nine finishers in the gold medal race linked with the use of performance enhancing drugs.

More recently Femke Van den Driessche, a 19-year-old Belgian cyclist was caught engaging in mechanical doping. She used a bicycle with a motor hidden in the frame.

The edge such acts of dishonesty delivers is quite small in many cases. For recreational athletes, the extra one percent is simply not worth the risk to your health or reputation. But with multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals at stake, even a fraction of a percent is the difference between a gold medal and millions of dollars and a hearty pat on the back for getting the silver.

antelope-suitThat’s why developments like the Antelope Suit worry me.

Their claim is “based on the embedded EMS (electro muscle stimulation) technology. We give you the opportunity to workout in the most effective and time efficient manner”.

So, what does it do?

In simple terms, the clothing has integrated electrodes that are used to increase muscle activation.

To be fair, the manufacturers promote this technology as a tool to aid in training and recovery. And there’s no doubt in my mind that there are some obvious therapeutic benefits for injury recovery and other conditions.

neo-matrix-muscle-stimulationI’m a sci-fi fan and seeing Neo have his muscles regenerated after being released from the energy farm in The Matrix with hundreds of needles delivering electrical stimulation gives you some idea of what Antelope is on about.

Competitive swimming saw a number of records broken during the early 2000s as athletes embraced body suits which improved their drag coefficient and, allegedly according to some, improved buoyancy. Those suits are no longer allowed at international events (see The amazing rise & fall of performance-enhancing high-tech swimsuits).

I wonder how long it will take for someone to be caught using performance enhancing clothing at an event. I doubt it will be at an international event where there is close attention and scrutiny of athletes, but at a qualifying event or at advanced amateur sports, it’s possible for an athlete, such as Femke Van den Driessche did in cyclocross, to give it a try.

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