Rise of smart textile and its impact on athlete performance

Smart textiles are here to improve athlete performance. They are intelligent clothes that are becoming a vital investment for the sports sector, which is also embracing this slowly but surely. Their application and advantages are numerous, from leading to better performance to enhancing player skills – smart textiles have proven to be game changers.

What are smart textiles?

The word smart textiles encompasses an all-purpose use – it’s a word that considers every aspect of tech in the sports textile world. These are fabrics that are built or made to sense the environment on the one hand – this includes considering thermal, mechanical, electrical, magnetic, or any other source – and how they (smart textiles) respond to it on the other hand.

Integrating technology – sensors, software, and electronics into textiles – is precisely what smart textiles are.

We know the wearables for tracking – from brands like Fitbit, Nike, and Runtastic. Smart textiles are here to add more spice to what wearable tech means. They offer the same functionality as wearables; however, they are becoming more detailed and precise in understanding athletes perform better. These textiles collect a large amount of player data and interpret it to improve an athlete’s performance concerning their movements, pace, speed, angle of movement, frequency of actions and more.

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Benefits for athletes

All players – amateur and elite – benefit from smart textiles. Here are four core areas that smart textiles bring to the forefront – all four hold a key potential to improve athletes’ performance:

1. Data analysis and performance

Data in our age is the new gold. An essential source of revenue for elite athletes.

In any sport – the critical factor coaches, trainers and athletes work on is improving their performance and endurance. This requires them to be able to monitor their performance.

What wearables have done and what smart textiles offer is the ability to gather, group and offer insights that were not known before. These tech-embedded clothing are equipped with sensors and can deliver all kinds of data from heart rate, GPS-related distance that is covered, speed, and body temperature at various times of playtime, along with a whole array of different parameters.

Today, rugby players are seen carrying a little box that fits into a small pocket of the player’s jersey between shoulder blades. This box is linked to a heart rate monitor, which downloads information to a docking station where it is visible during and after matches by coaches and sports scientists. To top this, these data analyses with the help of AI are offering what we could not fathom a few years ago. It helps coaches and players know what each athlete is capable of.

There is an increase of sensors integrated into costumes now, which can record athlete data – their body temperature, sweat, muscle movement and even their possible emotional response in the future. Considering data is gold for athletes and coaching teams today, smart textiles are surely playing a pivotal role in delivering this gold. From improving skills or fitness levels to avoiding injuries and other health-related issues to knowing which player is best to play at what point of the game – sensors in smart textiles are positively transforming the world of sports.

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2. Health

What if you can prevent injuries in the future?

Sensors embedded into smart clothing measure body functions and biomechanics. Heart rate, breathing, lung capacity, blood pressure, perspiration, the movement of muscles and joints and more.

Keeping in mind how these data points are – this information provides valuable data to athletes. Think of the smart stretchy textiles that have built-in strategically placed ECG, respiration, and physical activity sensors.

An athlete’s health is a key area in their performance. Smart clothing items have the potential to help in reducing several injuries or reduce the risk of overdoing in exercise or play-offs. The applications today in sensors have extensive data capabilities that may be able to predict injuries before they happen – all based on AI data analysis. Now, wouldn’t we all love to have this? Especially for athletes – this will mean they can extend their careers or have fewer injuries.

These sensors are still in their early stage – experts are also working on measuring and managing stress levels. New materials now protect cyclists from skin injuries when falling, integrating 4D pressuring systems.

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3. Training and technique

Don’t we all want the ability to perform better physically? Especially athletes.

When sensors are integrated into smart textiles, they can measure anything from athletes’ posture, body movement – arm movement, biometrics, etc. This measuring of data means collecting information for an athlete, and coaches are using this to help athletes improve their performance and especially their technique.

This is not simply useful for athletes but also for people like you and me – anyone with an injury in their recovery phase can improve their physical ability with the use of smart textiles today that can help doctors learn more about the patient’s body movement – how to enhance or speed up their recovery. Some shoes today can measure basically everything for runners. From their stride, balance, distance, cadence, stability, and anything possible you can think of. And while the runner is still running, they can gain information on how to improve their running technique via headphones.

Under Armour is a global brand aiming to target this trend of technology embedded within a shoe. They have built a chip into the sole of its new Hovr running shoe, providing direct feedback on runner cadence via the ‘map my run’ application.

Wearable X is another brand that has built a smart yoga pants concept. These pants have accelerometers and vibrating motors woven into the fabric around their hips, knees, and ankles. These vibrate gently and give you instructions on how to move and what is the correct position. Well, it’s your yoga teacher at a much lower price, considering the long term.

Almost every sport has something unique that brands are building to help improve athlete performance. From Golf or tennis swing to throwing a javelin – there are a whole series of opportunities in the books.

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4. Comfort

More comfort means better performance.

Do we all not love when clothes are comfortable, especially when it comes to sports clothing? Especially for women, sports clothes often come with many straps tied around the waist and chest, and they never really feel comfortable. The new generation of smart textiles is here to take over they are equipped with sensors and interwoven yarns that can measure a lot more.

The absence of a strap for any gender will make life easier for many athletes. Integrated textiles sensors can help adjust the temperature, which helps athletes to feel more comfortable during their physical activities. Talk about intelligent garments!

Now, think of an intelligent heat ski jacket – A sensor that can measure the difference between body temperature and the temperature your body would like to have. Once you start getting cold – the jacket will be heated – this can be powered by solar cells or a power bank. This warmth in high altitude-related sports will also make athletes train more comfortably. In the same way, these textiles can also expect to cool the athlete down in hot summer conditions. What marathon runners can surely make great use of.

Examples can be infinite of how these tech-embedded fabrics and clothing can change how we perform in sports and daily activities. Think about compression textiles designed to aid circulation and proper muscle recovery. With skin-hugging clothing, the sensors are close enough to the skin to capture the weak signal as well from the body generated by physical effort. The future in sports, from these pointers, should sound like one with a lot of promise and entwined with technology to lead the way.

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Author: Mankiran