Optimising athletic performance in the cold

Many Norwegians – amateur and professional cross-country skiers alike – take part in popular races with courses of fifty kilometres and more. An even greater number spend hour after hour skiing in the woods and mountains purely in the name of recreation. Common to all of them, whether competing or relaxing, is the need for clothing suited to the elements.

Cross-country skiiers need clothing suited to the elements. Illustrative photo: Shutterstock Cross-country skiiers need clothing suited to the elements. (Illustrative photo: Shutterstock)

The qualities of sportswear are especially important for competitive skiers. The wrong choice of garb can slow an athlete down. New research shows that a skier whose body temperature is lower than others can fall behind by 200-300 metres after 10 kilometres. This can easily spell the difference between first place and an unimpressive finish among the field.

Two-three per cent decline

“Temperature can have an immense impact on performance. The decline in performance can equal from two to three per cent of the distance otherwise covered over 20 minutes,” states Øystein Wiggen, doctoral fellow at the independent research foundation, SINTEF.

New sports underwear being put to the test (Photo: Swix/Vegard Breie) New sports underwear being put to the test (Photo: Swix/Vegard Breie) Mr Wiggen has recently completed the study Optimal prestasjon i kulde (“Optimal performance in the cold” – Norwegian only).

The study is part of the research project, ColdWear (Textiles and Clothing for improved safety, performance and comfort in the High North), which examines how low a temperature humans can tolerate in different contexts. The project was funded under the Programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA) for the Research Council of Norway.

Øystein Wiggen and the ColdWear project were involved in the development of the new official ski suit worn by Norway’s national ski team during the Nordic World Ski Championships held in Oslo in 2011. The event was a huge success for the Norwegian team.

Textile and petroleum industries working together

Mr Wiggen’s study is of special interest for athletes, but also holds promise for the petroleum industry as operations in the far North increase. With this in mind, SINTEF chose to cooperate with both the textile and petroleum industries on the project.

Whether it concerns country-skiing or work performance in sub-zero temperatures, the considerations are the same.

“For competitive skiers, minor details can mean the difference between a success and a fiasco. In industry, it’s essential to know what is going on with workers outdoors and to adapt their clothing to actual conditions,” explains Mr Wiggen.

 

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