OK, it may seem a little underhanded to use an exosuit system to score a better time, but it would still be pretty cool to try it out to see to what extent high-tech apparel can improve athletic performance.
Developed by a team of engineers at the Wyss Institute and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the shorts can apparently cut an average marathon time from 9:14 minutes-per-mile to 8:49. For sure, that’s an impressive reduction.
So how do they work? Well, according to its creators, the soft exosuit applies forces to the hip joint via thin, flexible wires, assisting the muscles during each stride. Those wires connect to the exosuit at the back of the thighs and waist belt, and can reduce the metabolic cost of running by as much as 5.4 percent.
“As subjects ran on a treadmill wearing the exosuit, the actuation unit pulled on the wires, which acted as a second pair of hip extensor muscles applying force to the legs with each stride,” the team explains on its website.
The team arrived at the most effective wire-pulling system after testing two options: one that applied force starting at the point of maximum hip extension as seen in a regular running motion, and one that applied force a little later in the running stride. The latter clearly proved the most effective.
While further work is required to hone the design, the team said it hopes that one day its technology can be used “to augment the performance of recreational athletes and/or help with recovery after injury.”
But if you’re a marathon runner thinking the gear could come in handy for knocking a few seconds off your next run, the downside is that in real-life conditions you’ll have to have some kind of vehicle trundling along behind you to carry the contraption that makes the whole system work. Until the researchers develop a portable version, you’ll have to time your running sessions indoors on a treadmill.
Well, no one ever said improving your running performance was going to be easy.