The Sochi Paralympics featured 750 athletes with disabilities from 45 countries in high-intensity competition for gold medals, many using sports equipment custom-designed for optimal performance—and off-the-rack clothing designed for able-bodied athletes. The Hohenstein Institute, BÃ¶nnigheim, Germany, launched a research project to give physically challenged athletes the same custom-designed sportswear that able-bodied Olympians have been using for years to enhance performance. After collecting data about body measurements and proportions, movement processes, postures of wheelchair users and patterns of heat dissipation and sweat, Anke Klepser, the research project leader, has developed design guidelines for clothing manufacturers looking for expanded markets.
The guidelines apply to long- and short-sleeved shirts, winter jackets and trousers. With 3-D scanner technology, researchers created avatars for participants in two sports: wheelchair basketball and hand bicycling. After scanning athletes both in their daily-use wheelchairs and in their custom equipment, Klepser and her team found many common clothing design flaws, some unique to particular sports. “The requirements for suitable textile materials in terms of sweat absorption and thermal insulation are universal,” says Klepser. “Other important aspects of the design, such as the position of seams, also apply regardless of the gender of the wearer.” All garments need specially adapted seam lines and stretchy materials that allow freedom of movement.
But wheelchair basketball players sit to play, and most standard trousers are too short at the back around the waist and too high over the stomach. By contrast, the lying-down position of hand bikers requires both the back and front of trousers to be higher. Athletes with spinal cord injuries may not be able to sweat to cool their bodies, so may need clothing that can be wetted down to improve evaporative cooling. The study results are available
to interested manufacturers.