Can a pair of pants help you train like an Olympian?
In the world of performance fitness apparel, a little bit of healthy skepticism goes a long way. Ever since Nike released the Air Jordans, consumers have been ready and willing to open their wallets in the hopes of being like their favorite athlete.
And while I think it's doubtful that most of the young basketball players who paid good money for a pair of Air Jordans ever made it big in the NBA, that doesn't mean gear can't make a difference in exercise performance. It can.
This fact took the world of swimming by storm in 2008 and 2009 with the introduction of full-body polyurethane swimsuits that led to an unprecedented number of world records. However, the performance-enhancing buoyancy and drag-reduction technology of these suits were ultimately determined to be too great, leading to a ban in 2010 to maintain the integrity of the sport.
That's just one extreme example of the improvements seen in performance apparel over the last 30 years, but it's one that proves the right clothing can, and does, make better athletes. Physiclo — a brand of workout apparel featuring built-in resistance band technology — claims their pants were designed to boost calorie burn and reduce workout time.
So I decided to investigate.
What's the big deal about resistance band technology?
The concept and development of Physiclo's patent-pending resistance band technology is actually pretty cool. Unlike other compression-style garments designed to, well, compress your muscles and fascia to boost circulation and enhance recovery, Physiclo combines compression pants with custom resistance bands and panels that wrap around your hips and thighs within the pant to counteract your movements. So, for instance, when you drive a leg forward to take a step, the resistance bands stretch, making the movement more difficult, especially at the apex of a full range of motion.
The end result is that each step you take is more difficult (though not exceedingly so) because you're working against the garment's built-in resistance. And because resistance bands provide variable resistance in every direction, it doesn't matter whether you're running forward, backward or side-to-side; the increased resistance is present whenever you move.
Do they really work?
The gold-standard evidence for any scientific claim or health benefit comes from university or third-party-led studies. Physiclo can't claim this yet, although they have plans to have such studies performed in the coming months and years.
What they do have, however, is an in-house pilot study on marathon and half-marathon runners during a 10-week training period. While the study itself was small, consisting of just 37 runners, the results were impressive.
- Testers wore the pants on roughly 64 percent of their training runs, typically during shorter, midweek runs rather than long weekend runs.
- Testers averaged fewer miles and slower speeds during training (possibly due to the more challenging task of running against greater resistance) than those wearing their own gear
- But at the end of the training period, testers averaged a seven-minute, 53-second improvement over their previous personal best running time, with 68 percent of testers setting a personal best record.
- The control group, however, saw no significant improvement in running time, on average, although half of the group did still set a personal best.
What these results seem to imply is that if you train with Physiclo pants, you can train at slower speeds, run fewer miles and still manage to improve your performance.
The second in-house study performed using Physiclo involved the use of electromyography to test muscle activation and electrocardiography to gauge calorie burn and heart rate. Again, results were significant. Wearing Physiclo pants resulted in:
- 23 percent greater muscle activity in the hamstrings and quads
- 14 percent increase in calorie burn
- 9 percent rise in heart rate
I'm certainly not scoffing at the potential, but I still want to see those third-party studies because without 'em, it's hard to know how different variables were controlled or whether there may have been other factors that contributed to the results.
What are they like to wear?
When I received a pair to review, I was impressed by their weight. These things are not your basic yoga pants — they're heavy, sturdy and clearly have resistance bands woven into their layers.
And because Physiclo garments are compression pants with the added tightness of resistance bands, they're not the easiest to put on. Once on, they're pretty comfortable though.
Word to the wise: Do not try to put them on immediately after a shower. It'll be worse than trying to sausage yourself into a wetsuit.
I ended up wearing them during a combined cardio and strength training routine, alternating among slide board training and upper-body and core exercises. What was interesting is that it wasn't that each individual movement felt that much harder; rather, it was the accumulation of added resistance that did the trick. I just found myself more tired than usual by the middle of my workout.
Training like an Olympian
Can Physiclo pants help you train like an Olympian? Well... sure, why not? Given that a number of Olympic athletes do, in fact, wear the pants during training.
Will Physiclo help turn you into an Olympic athlete? Probably not. It takes a whole lot more than a pair of pants to make that happen — like years of training, stellar genetics and hours upon hours of personalized coaching.
If what you're really looking for, though, is a way to enhance your training, then Physiclo might be a good option. If you're looking for a boost without drastically changing your exercise routine, they are worth a shot.