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Carbon technology gives swimsuit power on the inside

13 June 2016

Athletes place a great deal of trust in their equipment. They invest many years of their lives to train for a few minutes of maximum performance and need to be confident that the swimsuit will help them perform at their best.

Understanding this psychology is critical in ensuring that new product innovation is successful.

Sportswear manufacturers have a heightened responsibility when a new product is released close to a competition date. Swimwear company arena took this seriously when it launched its POWERSKIN Carbon-Pro swimsuit shortly ahead of the 2012 Olympics, and again when it released its most recent addition before the 2016 Olympics. On both occasions, arena worked with innovation consultancy Innovia Technology to ensure swimmers understood the benefits of the new suit and how it could improve their performance.

Work on the suits had begun years earlier when Innovia Technology deconstructed the concept of a swimsuit. This work provided new theoretical understanding into how a swimsuit can be designed to maximise the effectiveness of the swimmer’s actions in the water.

The Innovia team analysed swimmers’ actions, as consultant Rob Moir explains, the company integrated a deep knowledge of the physiology and mechanics of swimming with insights into apparel development. This embraced fluid mechanics, material science, physiology and psychology.

By taking a deep scientific approach, it was possible to identify ‘new levers’ to improve the design. These were presented to arena through a number of scenarios that could be explored further; all based on a fundamental understanding of the underlying science. 

Rob continues by saying, as a result of detailed analysis, Innovia were able to provide arena with options for the design of the suit, including guidelines for fabric construction, and also advice for communicating the benefits of the technology effectively to the swimmers and influencers within the sport.

Building on this foundation, the new POWERSKIN Carbon-Ultra suit takes the technical advances from the previous suits to a new level. It combines a carbon ‘Ultra-Cage’ outer shell, to optimise the swimmer’s hydrodynamics and support muscles, with a revolutionary inner ‘Ultra-Link System’ to work with the athlete’s physiology. 

Working together, these two systems deliver both support and freedom of movement, to ensure swimmers are working at their optimised peak performance in the pool.

The POWERSKIN Carbon series was the first to intricately weave carbon fibres, individually thinner than a human hair, into swimsuits. The Carbon-Ultra uses a new outer shell fabric to deliver intelligent compression of the body. Its ‘Ultra-Cage’ uses a denser carbon weave, designed for anisotropic stretch (more stretchy in one direction, stiffer in another), with panels that are oriented and positioned to support the body.

The result is a material that is able to compress without constricting. The ?bres lock down like a seatbelt as critical stretch levels kick in, giving maximum compression on over-extended zones, increasing support and control when and where it is needed. The position and alignment of the fabric ensures that the suit accurately conforms to an athlete’s shape, distributing pressure to streamline the body.

Dan Ward, also from the Innovia design team, says the biggest difference between the suits is the internal structure, which maximises the effectiveness of the swimmer’s actions in the water.

This structure, called the Ultra-Link System, provides a new type of support and movement management, and is based on a deep understanding of the key muscle chains that help swimmers to keep a streamlined body position.

The Ultra-Link system employs a continuous tape that anchors the muscle chain in the upper body for extra support. It links the ribs to the hips while still allowing freedom to rotate. It also connects to the gluteus maximus, keeping the hips high and helping to reduce body tilt in the water. Together these features help to make every movement in the pool count.

The most vital element for the ultimate success of the product is that athletes have complete confidence in its performance. arena has tested the suit with a number of top US college swim teams and leading US and European swimmers, including Chad Le Clos of South Africa, Olympic champion in 200m butterfly and three-time world champion. He comments that arena’s design is based on people’s feedback as swimmers, so he is excited that the new suit has made more progress again. This will be the biggest year of his career and knowing that he is wearing one of the fastest suit gives him con?dence that he can be at his best.

Adam Peaty of Great Britain, Double World Champion: 50m and 10m breaststroke comments that he really likes the double carbon cage with the additional compression that it offers.

Along with Innovia Technology, the arena scientific network also includes Kinetech Labs, the University of Bologna Faculty of Exercise and Sport Sciences, and the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne.

The arrival of POWERSKIN Carbon-Ultra communicates a strong message to athletes – that the arena family will continue to provide swimwear at the leading edge of swimming technology.


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