Monday, November 17, 2008
How times change. It wasn't so long ago that footballers were wearing jerseys made of material akin to sackcloth, celebrating with pints of beer and would have laughed at the very thought of an ice bath.
Now plunging aching bodies into vats of ice water is de rigeur, alcohol of any kind has been replaced with a variety of protein and carbohydrate-rich isotonic drinks and the science and technology behind football clothing has created a whole new industry.
All the manufacturers you would expect are at the forefront of new developments in the world of base layers and compression wear, but there are also a few you might not be familiar with.
In an ambitious move, Canterbury, a New Zealand-based sportswear company who made their name providing apparel for the sport of rugby union, have broken into the football market and now provide clothing and equipment to a number of clubs - most notably Premier League club Portsmouth and La Liga's Deportivo La Coruna.
Canterbury's niche in the market is its 'Ionx' range, clothing which "delivers ionic energy through a negatively charged magnetic field." There's a good reason that it sounds complicated; it is.
The shorthand is that the material is treated so as to improve blood flow, improve the delivery of oxygen to muscles and improve recovery time. Add this technology to Canterbury's compression clothing, which is designed to reduce the build up of lactic acid in muscles, reduce muscle soreness and speed-up recovery, and the Canterbury Ionx compression range is a compelling package and one the manufacturer believes provides elite athletes with a competitive advantage.
To put Canterbury's gear to the test I used some during and after a recent bike ride; the Exmoor Beast, a 100k slog around, over, up and down Exmoor, a beautiful but rugged part of south west England.
A 7am start in early November in the wind-swept wilds of north Devon meant that keeping warm and comfortable would be vital for what would be an arduous five-and-a-half hours in the saddle.
Along with a variety of other cycling-specific items of my own, I wore a pair of Canterbury running tights, to keep my legs warm and dry in the miserable conditions. After the event, in the hope that I might be able to walk the following day, I challenged the science behind Canterbury's revolutionary ionised energy fabrics by donning a compression shirt and shorts.
Cutting to the chase, I was impressed. Very impressed. I had previously used a cold weather specific Canterbury base layer and been kept warm and dry, as I was on the ride by the tights, thanks to their moisture management performance - the process of wicking sweat away from the body.
I can't say for certain whether the science behind the ionisation process or compression clothing lived up to the manufacturer's exact claims, suffice say by the evening of the following day the familiar ache of excursion in my legs was strangely absent.
Yes, I was fatigued, but not the ruined mess I'd expected to be. I re-hydrated properly after the ride and loaded myself up on protein to repair my muscles, but my experiences suggest that Canterbury's technology worked a treat in helping my recovery.
Footballers can expect to feel similarly rejuvenated after a tough game, but don't just take my word for it, there is a lot of scientific support that the Canterbury range works, particularly from Dr Mike Caine, Senior Lecture, Sports Technology at Loughborough University, the UK's unofficial home of sporting excellence.
"The preliminary findings of a study carried out by a team of Sports Technologists at Loughborough University have indicated that athletes wearing IonX treated garments demonstrate an improved level of power output during repeated, short duration maximal efforts,'' he said.
"With the benefit of time and further studies it should be possible to understand how to maximize the potential of IonX, however it is already clear that the garments have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the performance of athletes during training and competition.''
Further proof comes from the sports teams who wear the stuff already, from football teams like Portsmouth to South Africa, the reigning Rugby World Cup champions.
If one thing stood out about Canterbury's apparel, and put it ahead of its rivals, at least in my view, it is the quality of the materials and general comfort of product. You may not be an elite athlete, but you start to feel the part when you are togged up in equipment like this.
• For more information on Canterbury and their range of apparel please visit: www.canterburynz.com