For sweat magazine (OCAA publication Winter 2016)

Athletes use wearable technology to achieve the best results they can accomplish for their workout or sport. The evolution of workout clothing can be tracked back as far as 100 years. In the 1980’s a fitness staple was to workout in bright coloured leotards, leggings and leg warmers so, being able to move comfortably was a priority. Before the 2000’s athletes kept track of their heart rate by pressing 2 fingers against their neck. People wrote down their goals, had a personal trainer to help keep track of their calories and workout sessions. Now, athletes are able to see what they need to improve on instantly. They can keep track of their steps, pace, heart rate variability, heart rate recovery, resting heart rate, breathing rate, minute ventilation and much more.

Hexoskin smart clothing company in Montreal create shirts that have cardiac sensors, breathing sensors and movement sensors inside them. The prices range from the lowest of $169 for a smart tank top without a recording device and the highest of $ 4,999 that includes 10 Hexoskin’s and 20 shirts. A recording device is sold separate for some of the shirts. The recording device is needed for collecting biometric data and costs $230. Some of its features are, it stores 150 hours of data, Bluetooth wireless communication and transmits data to an in-range cellphone.

CEO of Hexoskin, Pierre-Alexandre Fournier proudly announced to Sweat magazine that their shirts will be worn in space by the Canadian space agency of NASA in 2018.

“We have many different types of athletes who are interested in Hexoskin, but in many cases we see athletes who have a scientific approach in their training program,” says Fournier. 

Former Sheridan Bruins volleyball player and current Humber Hawks volleyball athlete, Marcel Phung says smart clothing would be beneficial for student athletes.

“It’s useful, it shows you what muscles are engaged during activity and say ‘oh I need to get better at this’ or maybe you’re getting worse at something,” says Phung.

Phung works out twice a week and practices five times a week for volleyball. He’s given stretch Dri-Fit for strength and conditioning days and separate shirts for practices. He wouldn’t buy the shirts because they’re too costly, but says the school could supply it for the athletes so they could try it out and see how it could help them enhance their workout.

Fournier says Hexoskin can enhance an athletes workout. For instance they have fitness tests athletes can use to measure their resting heart rate and heart rate variabilty  (HRV). He says HRV is important for an athlete to know because if they’re over training it won’t positively impact their performance. 

“What’s interesting about Hexoskin is you can use it to cover many angles of your training. In addition to the heart rate training that other products offer we monitor respiration rate and ventilation and this is the only product on the market that can do that,” says Fournier. “ It can monitor how long you sleep, how much time it takes you to sleep and overall quality of your sleep. When you’re training you need to optimize your nutrition and your sleep. It’s known that the best athletes are often athletes that sleep a lot.”

Smart clothing continuously allows the athlete to be balanced, “it’s so crazy,” says Teresa Arnini, a high performance centre coordinator at Humber College. “They don’t let the athlete think about anything, they just want the athlete to perform to their ultimate ability.”

Fleming College basketball player, Mark Pereira, works out 15 to 25 hours a week for his sport. Wearing proper performance gear is important for him to reach his goals; although, he would buy smart clothing if the prices were lower.

“I would buy it in the off season to know what muscles I’m using and what to target the most , what you use the most, know where your heart rate is at,” said Pereira, “ For $300 no, maybe in the 200’s range.”

  “No one has any money. People are constantly paying for tuition and textbooks and food. You can’t justify spending $300 on a shirt,” said fitness coach of Toronto The Boulevard Club, Rachel Chung.

Sheridan Bruins men’s basketball head coach and athletic director, Jim Flack, says he wants his team to not solely focus on smart technology, but wouldn’t discourage them if they want to wear it.

“If they thought it would make them better then I am all for it,” says Flack.

Smart clothing expands into other wearable technology that many may have heard of such as smart wristbands, but smart sports equipment and the Ear-O-Smart are starting to become more noticeable in the technology industry.

Kiwi is a Toronto company that provides the brains behind the motion sensors. Kiwi develops the software that collects the data for future wearable products.

To create a future wearable product Kiwi developer, Donald Koo, finds athletes that want to improve in their sport. Aside from sports they can also help athletes train in the gym to achieve a certain goal like the perfect bicep curl. They hook up the athlete with sensors and the athlete continues to play their sport. Some types of software Kiwi has developed are the smart lacrosse stick.

“We would have to go and collect data from lacrosse players so when we create our own algorithm they are accurate to what lacrosse actually looks like,” says Koo. “We need sample data to test our model to make sure it’s 100% accurate or accurate as it can be or where we can improve.

They form a set of motions we would record all that and then distill that down to our algorithms and it will determine what a proper serve should look like, a toss, what all these different things should look like. What peaks are most important like what part of the toss can someone improve on the most for example is their elbow out or in.”

To keep track of the data it depends on the manufacturers if they want to set up an Application for it says Koo, the pricing also depends on the manufactures.

Koo said Kiwi stands out among other software companies because they’re able to move to different sports easily like tennis and basketball.Kiwi has a computer system where all their information is stored separately for each sport. Creating software for student athletes who want to improve on a technique in their sport is an interest to one.

“A smart basketball would be beneficial to help guys improve on shooting and dribbling the ball. I would buy one,” says Pereira.

Flack says he’s seen a lot of smart equipment that look impressive, but in the end doesn’t do much for the athlete.

“I’ve seen one a couple years ago that measured the force of your dribble to see how equal your left and right arms are,” says Flack. “It was neat to see, but I didn’t see how it would translate into improving that for the athlete.”

Although, Flack mentioned one smart wearable device he saw in 1984 that impressed him. When he played on York University’s championship basketball team one of the team players that played center stood up too straight and didn’t bend his knees enough. The sports psychologist at that time created a device that beeped every time he stood too straight to remind him to bend his knees.

Moving onto smaller wearable technology, the Ear-O-Smart is the backings to a pair of earrings. The Ear-O-Smart can be worn with any pair of earrings you already own. Ravinder Saini and his team of scientists and engineers had to make sure it was light and comfortable enough to wear throughout the day.

ear-o-smart- courtsey photo

The Ear-O-Smart will be launching in a couple of weeks and is known to be one of the “groundbreaking smallest wearable tech on the market,” says Saini. He came up of the idea in June 2014 when he was in his Masters for engineering at the University of Windsor. They will be taking preorders for $80 USD.

“Our targeted market is for females because there are less products for them out there to buy, most products are unisex in a male dominated market there are bulky, plastic bands or smart watches,” says Saini. “What if that doesn’t go with your lifestyle or outfit so what we created is something they can wear in everyday life with their outfits.”

The Ear-O-Smart monitors your heart rate, steps, calories burned, it tells you about your goals and how well you’re doing at achieving them.

“For example if your goal is fat burning it’s not good to work out at a high cardio range so it’ll help you optimize your workout session so you can optimally achieve your goals. All the feedback and data collected from the sensors will go to the app to optimize your sessions,” says Saini, the app is compatible with IOS and Android.

Flack says this technology is useful but would be better suited for the Olympics or Pan Am games because the students athletes just aren’t ready for it. 

“Sports are an art it’s not science. People with a science background think they can break down sports into science, but they just cant,” says Flack.


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