Forget what you know about fashion — smart dressing is heading in a whole new direction. With the arrival of fitness apparel made from “intelligent” fabric, performance and posture could be getting a serious makeover. But can IntelliSkin shirts and sports bras really keep us from hunching over our computers, or slogging through a workout with less-than-perfect form? It was time to put this new wearable tech to the test.
Intelligent Design — How It Works
It all began innocently enough: a small package delivered to the office containing a zip-front sports bra and a short-sleeved shirt in my specified size. I held up the shirt, just 8-10 inches wide (at most) with sleek, vertical seams that made it look even skinnier. “There’s no way that’s human sized,” our health editor laughed.
I was warned the items would be snug, so I told my fellow greatists to stand by (like really, come help me if I get stuck) as I took the shirt into the bathroom to try it on.
There was a struggle, I’m not going to lie. And five hard-fought minutes later I emerged as a tightly packed, albeit very upright individual.
Developed by sports physician Dr. Tim Brown, the athlete-endorsed shirts feature patent pending PostureCue™ technology that mimics functional athletic taping to promote proper alignment and engage underused posture muscles. Long-term, the manufacturer says, the shirts are meant to re-train your body toward optimal muscular balance, resulting in better breathing, improved performance, reduced risk of injury, and greater confidence (a tall order indeed!).
The Skin I’m In — The Test Drive
At my desk, I could feel the strategically placed compression panels gently pressing my shoulders down and back, and my chronically troubled spine lengthen ever so slightly. Bonus: I looked like “a really awesome astronaut” (thanks, David Tao!). Downside: By the end of the afternoon, I felt constricted by my new sporty suction-wear. (Read the fine print, though, and the recommendation is 30-60 minutes at a time before increasing IntelliSkin increments.)
The next day, I was hesitant to sport my super-snug T at the gym. But according to Dr. Brown, IntelliSkin not only keeps muscles warm, it can also aid in performance and recovery. While the benefits of IntelliSkin products haven’t been studied at length, if we look at research on compression gear in general, the science is somewhat sound. Studies suggest compression clothing can increase circulation, reduce inflammation, and improve post-exercise recovery (though not necessarily performance) Compression sleeves increase tissue oxygen saturation but not running performance. Ménétrier, A., Mourot, L., Bouhaddi, M., et al. EA 3920 Physiopathologie Cardiovasculaire et Prévention, IFR 133, Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon, France. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2011 Nov;32(11):864-8. Wearing a sports compression garment on the performance of visuomotor tracking following eccentric exercise: a pilot study. Pearce, A.J., Kidgell, D.J., Grikepelis, L.A., et al. Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise and Sport, Victoria University, Australia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2009 Jul;12(4):500-2. Lower limb compression garment improves recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in young, active females. Jakeman, J.R., Byrne, C., Eston, R.G. School of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, St. Luke’s Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter, UK. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2010 Aug;109(6):1137-44. The effects of compression garments on recovery. Davies, V., Thompson, K.G., Cooper, S.M. Sports Council for Wales, Cardiff, United Kingdom. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 Sep;23(6):1786-94..
On the weight room floor, I felt an added stability performing bodyweight squats, box jumps, and barbell lunges (a trainer even complimented my form — score!). Later that week, in the zip-front sports bra (complete with Gaga-esque mesh back panels and slight cap sleeves) things didn’t go quite as well. During front squats and standing calf raises, the machine’s shoulder padding caused the stitching on the bra to scratch and irritate the tops of my shoulders. To its credit, the zip-front design was way more convenient (getting in and out of the pull-over top was a workout in and of itself).
After each stint wearing IntelliSkin, I waited for my muscle memory to kick in once the shirt came off. But about 20 minutes after leaving the gym (or desk), I could feel the “memory” of my second skin fade away, and my shoulders creep back up toward my ears. And recovery might be even tougher to test, especially as just one individual who tested the product over the course of just a few workouts. The day after each one, I recall being the usual combination of invigorated and sore.
A Tall Order — The Takeaway
There’s no shortage of health and fitness products claiming to change people's lives (toning shoes and apparel included). And while IntelliSkin may not deliver on each and every one of its claims, it can offer each wearer at least a few. It’s warm, it doubles as compression gear, and if it doesn’t perfect your posture, it will bring some greater awareness to it (which could be just as effective). Starting at $95 a pop, these shirts aren’t cheap, but for poor-posture plagued office dwellers and athletes interested in cutting edge gear, they might be worth the investment.
Would you consider trying out IntelliSkin products? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @jshakeshaft.