Sunday, February 27, 2022

Super Pants Instead Of Super Shoes?

When someone mentions exoskeletons, I immediately think of 'Robocop', a film from 1987 (film poster below). Those of you who are old enough to remember watching Robocop starring Joel Kinnaman will understand what I'm trying to write. 

Why am I writing about exoskeletons? Well, it seems they may be the next big thing for runners after super shoes like Nike's Vaporfly came onto the market in 2017.

Wearable exoskeletons were invented to assist walking or running, especially to help carry heavy loads. Here's an early invention from a paper published in 2018 (Nasiri et al 2018). A spring loaded exoskeleton (pictured above the movie poster) worn around the waist and clamped to the upper legs that helps the rear leg forward with each stride. The researchers showed an improvement of 8 percent (compared to 4 percent with the Vapourfly).

However, if you looked at the design, it looks too cumbersome to run with. Probably it would be banned by World Athletics too.

A more recent paper published last year by South Korean researchers showed how a relatively simple design can improve running economy by 2.5 to 4.7 percent. 

There is a band around your torso, held up by suspenders (pictured above).There is also one compression band around each thigh, which is connected to the torso by an elastic. It weighs just 1.3 pounds and sticks out from your body by not more than an inch. Surely that can pass off as a pair of compression tights that will not be deemed illegal by World Athletics standards?

There was also another paper from a group of researchers in China that studied a unpowered exoskeleton that improved running economy by 7.2 percent (Zhou et al, 2021)

Rememeber so many world swimming records were broken after the now infamous polyurethane Speedo Fastskin LZR 'super suits' were introduced in 2009 and FINA (World Swimming Federation) subsequently banned them. Well, some of those timings still stand. 

Similarly, road running/ racing shoes cannot be used (for World Athletics races) if the midsole is thicker than 40 mm or if the shoes contain more than 1 carbon plate. Running spikes can only be 20 millimeters (mm) thick (down from 25) with effect from 2024. 

This may have led to the 400m hurdles men's world record By Karsten Warholm at the Tokyo Olympics last year. That world record and any other records set by these super spikes may last a whole lot longer when the super spikes are outlawed in 2024. Just like the swimming world records set wearing those 'super suits'.

Perhaps World Athletics should write some rules with these soon to be developed super pants. Remember you read about the 'super pants' here first.


Nasiri R, Ahmadi A and Ahmadabadi MN (2018). Reducing The Energy Cost Of Human Running Exoskeleton. IEEE Trans Neural Sys Rehab Eng. 26(10): 2026-2032. DOI: 10.1109TNSRE.2018.2872889

Yang JH, Park JI, Kim JH et al (2021). Reducing The Energy Cost Of Running Using A Lightweight, Low-profile Elastic Exosuit. J NeuroEngineering Rehab. 18, 129. DOI: 10.1186/s12984-021-00928-x

Zhou T, Xiong C, Zhang J e al (2021). Reducing The Metabolic Energy Of Walking And Running Using An Unpowered Hp Exoskeleton. J NeuroEngineering Rehab.18, 95. DOI: 10.1186/s1298-021-0093-5

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