Title:
Assisting Muscle Contraction for Enhancing Athletic Performance
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A specialized article of clothing is configured to enhance speed and/or accuracy of a golf swing or baseball swing. The clothing employs tension and/or flexure members configured to enhance muscle function, thereby increasing muscular strength and/or speed for improving athletic performance. The tension and/or flexure members provide for storage and release of strain energy during a wearers movement. The article of clothing may be configured for alternative movements, including throwing, jumping, and running. The article of clothing may be adapted to reduce strain on fatigued or injured muscles, or it may be configured to limit the range of motion of a joint, such as to prevent injury.



Inventors:
Forman, Jacqueline Emily(Jemy) (Canton, GA, US)
Shattil, Steve (Cheyenne, WY, US)
Forman, Thomas Peter (Canton, GA, US)
Application Number:
12/416154
Publication Date:
04/15/2010
Filing Date:
04/01/2009
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
2/243.1
International Classes:
A41D27/00; A41D1/00
View Patent Images:
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20170055619Shovel Head CounterweightMarch, 2017Langan
20150118438INSULATING MATERIALS AND METHODS OF FORMING SAMEApril, 2015Yui et al.
20030172438Cap having sweat bandSeptember, 2003Han et al.
20090055996I-PocketMarch, 2009Green et al.
20160309794Sole PadOctober, 2016Nasser
20100050322Orthotic footsock and integrated removable gel arch padMarch, 2010Zagula
20100325774TWO-PIECE GARMENTDecember, 2010Marquis et al.
20140359914Systems and Methods for Clothing Indicating Encoded Regional AssociationDecember, 2014Meyer



Primary Examiner:
MUROMOTO JR, ROBERT H
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Steven J Shattil (Boulder, CO, US)
Claims:
1. An article of clothing comprising: a first connector configured for connecting to a first side of at least one joint, a second connector configured for connecting to a second side of the at least joint, the second side being opposite to the first side and a tension member coupled to the first connector and the second connector, the tension member being deformable for storing energy during a first movement of the at least one joint and producing a restoring force during a second movement of the at least one joint.

2. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein the tension member comprises at least one of a set of elastic materials, the set comprising a spring, a bungie, a rubber band, an elastic chord, an elastic panel, and an elastic thread.

3. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein the tension member is configurable for producing a constant restoring force.

4. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein the tension member is configurable for producing a restoring force in more than one direction.

5. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein at least one of the first connector and the second connector is configurable for attaching directly to an appendage of the wearer's body.

6. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein at least one of the first connector and the second connector comprises an adjustable connector.

7. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, wherein the tension member is configurable for providing a predetermined amount of non-zero pre-tension.

8. The article of clothing recited in claim 1, further comprising at least one anchor configurable for attaching to the first connector.

9. An article of clothing comprising: a first connector configured for connecting to a first side of at least one joint, a second connector configured for connecting to a second side of the at least joint, the second side being opposite to the first side and a flexure member coupled to the first connector and the second connector, the flexure member being deformable for storing energy during a first movement of the at least one joint and producing a restoring force during a second movement of the at least one joint.

10. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein the flexure member comprises at least one of a set of elastic materials, the set comprising a spring, a bungie, a rubber band, an elastic chord, an elastic panel, and an elastic thread.

11. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein the flexure member is configurable for producing a constant restoring force.

12. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein the flexure member is configurable for producing a restoring force in more than one direction.

13. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein at least one of the first connector and the second connector is configurable for attaching directly to an appendage of the wearer's body.

14. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein at least one of the first connector and the second connector comprises an adjustable connector.

15. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, wherein the flexure member is configurable for providing a predetermined amount of non-zero pre-tension.

16. The article of clothing recited in claim 9, further comprising at least one anchor configurable for attaching to the first connector.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

I. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates generally to articles of clothing, including braces, designed for supporting movement of one or more joints, and particularly to articles of clothing comprising tension and/or flexure members designed for storing and releasing energy in the form of tension created by distortion of the tension and/or flexure members.

II. Description of the Related Art

The mechanics of swinging a golf club or baseball/softball bat require the coordination of numerous muscles in the human body to achieve the desired result—velocity, distance, and accuracy. These sports are played by men and women of different ages and abilities, ranging from the absolute beginner to the paid professional.

Proficiency in these sports typically requires many years of practice, training and physical conditioning to achieve a high level of competency and skills needed to be competitive. Peak performance also requires the use of state-of-the-art equipment. A large variety of golf clubs made from aerospace-grade titanium and forged metals are now available to the golfer to improve driving distance and accuracy on the golf course. Golf balls are rated and compared in terms of driving distance, speed, and overall “feel”. In softball and baseball, bats employ exotic aluminum alloys and composites in order to drive the ball longer distances. Overall, sporting equipment for these sports is purchased by athletes wishing to gain a competitive edge in the sport.

However, modern equipment has in many ways achieved such a high level of efficiency that little room remains for significant gains in equipment performance year over year. Furthermore, many athletic associations enforce maximum performance guidelines for equipment (such as softball bats) and disqualify players who use higher-performance unauthorized equipment. As a result, athletes must now increase their focus on physical fitness and increased strength and agility to obtain a competitive advantage.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect of the invention, an article of clothing comprises one or more tension and/or flexure members that can store and release energy to enhance movement. The tension and/or flexure members may comprise similar stiffness (modulus) values or different stiffness values, and are configured to store and release strain energy in at least one predetermined direction. Tension and/or flexure members may be oriented in a radial or parallel pattern. The tension and/or flexure members may be embedded within the clothing material (i.e., encapsulated, hidden) or may be located externally (i.e., outside the clothing material). The tension and/or flexure members are attached at specific locations to allow stretching (tensile strain) or deflection (flexural strain) for energy storage and release.

One aspect of the invention provides for an article of clothing comprising a tension means having a connection means configured for connecting the tension means to different sides of at least one joint, the tension means being configured for storing energy during a first movement of the at least one joint and releasing energy during a second movement of the at least one joint. For example, the second movement may be in opposition to the first movement.

The tension means may include, by way of example, but without limitation, one or more springs, bungies, rubber bands or chords, elastic panels, elastic threads, or any other type of elastic material. The connection means may include, by way of example, but without limitation, one or more connectors fixed to the article of clothing, and one or more connectors configured for coupling to an anchor means (such as a strap, a brace, a belt, or some other separate article of clothing). The connection means may comprise at least one connector configurable for attaching directly to an appendage of the wearer's body. One or more of the connectors may be adjustable connectors.

Another aspect of the invention provides for an article of clothing comprising a flexure means having a connection means configured for connecting the tension means to different ends of at least one joint, the flexure means being configured for storing energy during a first movement of the at least one joint and releasing energy during a second movement of the at least one joint. The flexure means may include, by way of example, but without limitation, one or more semi-rigid rods, beams, tubes, panels, or skins configured to store strain energy when the flexure means is bent or otherwise deformed.

Although particular aspects are described herein, many variations and permutations of these aspects fall within the scope of the invention. Some benefits and advantages of the preferred aspects are mentioned. However, the scope of the invention is not intended to be limited to particular benefits, uses, or objectives. Rather, aspects of the invention are intended to be broadly applicable to different sports and a variety of articles of clothing (such as braces, supports, straps, belts) and other systems configured for aiding, supporting, and/or enhancing muscle contraction, some of which are illustrated by way of example in the figures and in the following Detailed Description. The Detailed Description and drawings are merely illustrative of the invention rather than limiting, the scope of the invention being defined by the appended claims and equivalents thereof.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Aspects according to the present invention are understood with reference to the following figures.

FIG. 1 shows the back of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention with radial-oriented tension members.

FIG. 2 shows the front of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention with radial-oriented tension members.

FIG. 3 shows a belt configured as an anchor for tension members shown in FIGS. 1 and/or two.

FIG. 4 shows the front of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention with parallel-oriented tension members.

FIG. 5 shows the back of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention with parallel-oriented tension members.

FIGS. 6A-6F illustrate key positions during a golf swing. Specifically, FIG. 6A shows an initial setup position (i.e., addressing the ball), FIG. 6B shows a fully extended (i.e., coiled) backswing, FIG. 6C shows a position shortly after the forward swing has commenced, FIG. 6D shows contact of the golf club head with the ball, FIG. 6E shows the swing immediately following contact with the ball (the beginning part of the “follow-through” stage, and FIG. 6F shows the end of the follow-through stage of the swing.

FIGS. 7A-7D show a sequence of positions during a lifting movement performed by a wearer of an article of clothing configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention.

FIGS. 8A-8D show a sequence of positions during a lifting movement performed by a wearer of an article of clothing configured in accordance with another aspect of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

While the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, specific aspects thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and are herein described in detail. It should be understood, however, that it is not intended to limit the invention to the particular form disclosed, but rather, the invention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the scope of the invention as defined by the claims.

All muscles work in antagonistic pairs, since muscles can exert force only by contracting and lengthen only by relaxing. Muscles cannot push or stretch themselves. For example, a pair of muscles (the biceps and triceps) bends and straightens the elbow, which is a simple hinge joint. When the biceps contracts, it flexes (bends) the elbow joint. At the same time, it pulls the triceps, making it longer. So the triceps stretches due to contraction of the biceps. When the triceps contracts, it extends (straightens) the elbow joint, and also pulls the biceps, making it longer. So these two muscles work together. Neither muscle stretches itself. Rather, it must be stretched by its antagonist (partner). Complex joints, such as the shoulder (which is a ball-and-socket joint), have more than one antagonistic pair of muscles. The shoulder joint includes three pairs of muscle.

In many athletic activities, such as sports that involve throwing a ball or swinging a club or bat, the muscles employed for throwing or swinging are first stretched by their corresponding opposing muscles. For example, the pre-launch mechanics of a baseball batter's swing involve the batter's hands pulling toward the back-shoulder—mainly by the top-hand pulling backward toward the catcher. When the muscles used to swing the bat are fully stretched, the batter is ready to initiate forward rotation.

The lowering of the lead heel triggers the initiation of the swing. Leg and torso muscles contract in unison to accelerate shoulder rotation. The hands remain back and allow rotation to fling them into a circular path. The back-elbow lowers toward the batter's side as the batter pulls back with the top-hand, increasing the bat-head speed in an arc toward the catcher. At this point, shoulder rotation, the circular path of the hands, and the push-pull action of the arms accelerates the bat-head.

While differences in style may exist, one key point proves true—all great power hitters in baseball use similar rotational mechanics, whereas weaker hitters do not. Great hitters produce their tremendous bat speed by continuously supplying torque and rotational energies to the bat from initiation to contact. Average hitters also generate their bat speed by applying these same forces, but over a more limited portion of the swing and therefore attain limited results.

In accordance with one aspect of the invention, tension and/or flexure members fastened to opposite sides of a joint (or fastened across multiple joints) are configured to assist a batter's swing by supplying continuous torque and rotational energy to the bat over a substantial portion of the swing. Alternative aspects of the invention may be configured to assist a golfer's swing. In yet another aspect, an article of clothing, such as a brace, includes tension and/or flexure members fastened to opposite sides of an elbow joint to assist a wearer's throwing motion. Other aspects may be provided wherein tension and/or flexure members integrated into an article of clothing may assist muscles in performing other movements, such as to enhance sports performance and/or reduce tension on injured or fatigued muscles.

The tension and/or flexure members store energy when the first set of an antagonistic pair of muscles contracts and the second set of the antagonistic pair stretches. For example, the tension and/or flexure members are deformed as the first set of muscles contracts, and the resulting deformation may be in the direction that the second set of muscles is stretched. The tension and/or flexure members are configured to produce a restoring force in a direction that the second set of the antagonistic pair contracts.

A restoring force, as used herein, is typically a variable force that gives rise to an equilibrium in a physical system. If the system is perturbed away from the equilibrium, the restoring force will tend to bring the system back toward equilibrium. An example is the action of a spring: an idealized spring exerts a force that is proportional to the amount of deformation of the spring. Pulling the spring to a longer configuration causes it to exert a force that brings the spring back toward its equilibrium length. The amount of force can be determined by multiplying the spring constant of the spring by the amount of stretch. While a restoring force is typically a variable force, alternative aspects of the invention may be configured to produce a substantially constant restoring force.

Aspects of the invention may include an article of clothing, such as a brace, or some other wearable device that comprises at least a pair of fastening members and one or more tension and/or flexure members. The fastening members are configured for fastening the one or more tension and/or flexure members to opposite sides of at least one joint.

In one aspect, a shirt comprises one or more tension and/or flexure members configured to store and release energy for enhancing a desired physical movement. The tension and/or flexure members may be positioned underneath the fabric of the shirt, outside the fabric of the shirt, encapsulated within the fabric of the shirt, or integrated into the fabric of the shirt. In one aspect, the fabric of the shirt may be designed to provide tension and/or flexure in one or more predetermined directions. For example, the shirt may comprise an elastic fabric configured for providing elasticity in at least one predetermined direction.

FIG. 1 shows the back of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention. A plurality of tension members 101-105 have a first set of connectors 121-125 attached around the shoulder of the shirt. The plurality of tension members 101-105 have a second set of connectors 111-115 configurable for connecting to a belt, a brace, or some other separate article of clothing or any alternative wearable device configured to serve as an anchor point. In some aspects of the invention, each of the tension members 101-105 may comprise more than a pair of connectors. In all such aspects, tension members (such as the tension members 101-105) and connectors (such as the connectors 111-115 and 121-125) are positioned to enable the tension members to store energy when the wearer of the shirt moves in at least a first predetermined way and to release the energy when the wearer moves in at least a second predetermined way, thereby assisting at least one predetermined movement.

In order to adjust the tension of the tension members (101-105) to a desired level, the connectors 121-125 (and/or 111-115) and/or the anchor point (such as the belt shown in FIG. 3) to which the connectors 111-115 attach may be adjustable. The belt shown in FIG. 3 includes a flexible member 300 configured to encircle a wearer's waist, and a fastening member comprising a bracket 310 and a tightness-adjustment lever 322 configured for fastening the belt. Alternative belt designs may be employed, such as those employing a standard buckle arrangement.

The flexible member 300 further comprises one or more anchors (such as anchors 301-304) for anchoring connectors (such as the connectors 111-114). In this case, each connector (such as connector 114) comprises a loop 314 configured to attach to its respective anchor 304. The anchor 304 comprises a post 324 to which the loop 314 fits over, and a cap 334 for securing the loop to the post 324. In other aspects, connectors and/or anchors may employ carabineers or other clip devices.

The belt may be adjusted (rotated) around the waist to apply a desired level of pre-tension to the tension members. In other aspects, the connectors and/or the tension members may be adjusted to supply a predetermined amount of pre-tension. Tension levels of zero pre-tension (e.g., fully slack tension members) to many pounds of total pre-tension may be provided. Pre-tension levels depend on various factors, such as the degree of deformation imposed upon the tension members, the number of tension members employed, and the amount of restoring force supplied by each tension member.

A higher pre-tension level enables greater energy storage, which can increase swing speed for a batter or golfer. A pre-tension level greater than zero pounds results in a restoring force that the wearer must resist at the “ready position” (e.g., while standing over the golf ball, such as shown in FIG. 6A). As the pre-tension level is increased (i.e., as the belt is adjusted to increase the tensile strain energy), more potential energy is provided. In some aspects of the invention, the pre-tension may assist the wearer by relieving the load on fatigued or injured muscles.

FIG. 2 shows the front of a shirt configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention. The tension members 131-135 are positioned in a radial orientation with respect to each other, with a first set of connectors 151-155 located around the shoulder and a second set of connectors 141-145 configurable for connecting to an anchor (such as the belt shown in FIG. 3).

FIG. 4 shows the front of a shirt configured in accordance with an alternative aspect of the invention. In this case, the tension members 101-105 are disposed in a parallel orientation with respect to each other. FIG. 5 shows the back of a shirt also comprising parallel tension members 101-105. It should be appreciated that the tension members 101-105 may be oriented in different ways (e.g., radially in FIGS. 1 and 2, and parallel in FIGS. 4 and 5), yet provide assistance for the same movement. For example, the shirt aspects shown in FIGS. 1, 2, 4, and 5 may be employed by a wearer swinging a golf club. Furthermore, a particular aspect of the invention may be employed for assisting different movements. For example, a shirt aspect, such as shown in any of the FIGS. 1, 2, 4, and 5 may be employed for assisting both a golf swing and a baseball swing.

Alternative aspects may provide for the design of the tension and/or flexion members (and their respective connectors) to take into account fine aspects of the movement to be assisted. For example, one aspect may be designed specifically to enhance a golf club swing, whereas a different aspect may be designed specifically to enhance a baseball bat swing.

Tension and/or flexure members employed in aspects of the invention may have similar stiffness (modulus) or different stiffness values. The tension and/or flexure members may be embedded within the shirt material (i.e., encapsulated, or otherwise hidden) or may be located externally (e.g., outside the shirt). Tension and/or flexure members may be applied to the back and/or front of the shirt and/or to the sides of the shirt. The tension and/or flexure members are attached at specific locations to allow stretching (tensile strain) and/or deflection (flexural strain) for energy storage and release.

In some aspects of the invention, a tension member may comprise an elastic material (such as a spring, a bungie, a rubber band, or any other type of elastic material) configured to store strain energy when the tension member is stretched. Alternative aspects of the invention may comprise one or more flexure members (such as semi-rigid rods, beams, tubes, panels, or skins) configured to store strain energy when the flexure member is bent or otherwise deformed. In some aspects, flexure members may comprise a semi-rigid material shaped as a circular tube, a curved panel, or an I-beam. Furthermore, certain aspects (such as an aspect configured to store energy when a hinge joint is bent, and to release energy when the joint is extended) may be more effectively implemented with flexure members. Thus, aspects of the invention that employ flexure members may provide a similar function as aspects employing tensile members.

Regardless of initial pre-tension (or pre-flexure), additional storage energy is provided during the backswing portion of a golf swing or baseball bat swing. For example, in a golf swing, a great amount of forward swing power can be facilitated in the backswing by rotating the shoulders further than the hips (such as shown in FIG. 6B). The shoulders rotate clockwise (for a right-handed golfer) by 90 degrees from the setup position shown in FIG. 6A to the full backswing position depicted in FIG. 6B, while the hips rotate only 45 degrees. Aspects of the invention may provide for stretching one or more tension members or flexing one or more flexure members during the backswing.

The coiling (i.e., twisting) of the body (and the resulting tension and or flexure of a shirt or brace configured in accordance with aspects of the invention) during the backswing provide for potential-energy storage. This potential energy is released in the form of kinetic energy when the golfer's body uncoils (untwists) during the downswing and follow-through (FIGS. 6B-6F), which accelerates the club head. Thus, some aspects of the invention provide for coordinating the release of stored tension (or flex) in tension elements (or flexure elements) with the uncoiling (i.e., untwisting) of the golfer's body. Since aspects of the invention enhance potential-energy storage in the backswing position (FIG. 6B), the speed of the downswing at impact with the golf ball (FIG. 6D) may be significantly increased.

Furthermore, aspects of the invention may employ an initial pre-tension and/or pre-flexure strain energy during setup (FIG. 6A), which provides for additional energy storage during the backswing (FIG. 6B). Such pre-tension and/or pre-flexure assists the golfer in initiating the downswing from the top of the backswing, and increases the club head's acceleration, thereby increasing club-head speed at the contact point (FIG. 6D), and thus driving distance.

Alternative aspects of the invention may be configured for enhancing a baseball player's or softball player's bat speed. Other aspects may be configured for racket sports. Still, other aspects may be configured for sports that employ throwing. In other aspects, an athlete's running and/or jumping ability may be enhanced by the configuration of tension and/or flexure elements. Another aspect may be configured for improving a swimmer's performance.

Some aspects of the invention may be employed as a training tool for teaching proper movement. For example, an aspect of the invention may employ tension and/or flexure members configured to train someone to properly coordinate the movement of their hips, shoulders, and arms. In another aspect, the tension and/or flexure members may be further configured to resist a particular movement for physical conditioning to strengthen and train a predetermined muscle group used for batting, swinging, throwing, swimming, running, jumping, etc.

FIGS. 7A-7D show a sequence of positions during a lifting movement performed by a wearer of an article of clothing configured in accordance with an aspect of the invention. The article of clothing comprises a flexure member 700, a first connector 701, and a second connector 702. The flexure member 700 is secured to the wearer's body by the connectors 701 and 702. In this case, connector 701 may include a chest harness and connector 702 may include a leg harness. Alternative connectors may be employed for securing the flexure member to the wearer's body.

The flexure member 700 may comprise a semi-rigid material, such as a flexible rod, panel, or membrane that is in a non-deformed state while the wearer's back and buttocks are straight, such as shown in FIG. 7D. As the wearer bends or squats, the flexure member 700 deforms, storing energy. FIG. 7A illustrates a position in which the flexure member 700 stores the most energy during a lifting movement. At this point, the flexure member 700 is providing maximum restoring force, which relieves strain on the wearer's back. As the wearer stands up, the flexure member assists the lifting movement.

FIGS. 7A-7D show a sequence of positions during a lifting movement performed by a wearer of an article of clothing configured in accordance with another aspect of the invention. The article of clothing comprises flexure member 700, first connector 701, second connector 702, and a flexure augmenter 710. The flexure augmenter 710 is configured for providing a pre-flexion force to the wearer when the wearer is in a neutral position, such as the standing position shown in FIG. 8D. In this case, the pre-flexion force provided by the flexure augmenter 710 can assist the wearer when holding or carrying an object by reducing strain on the wearer's back.

The method and system aspects described herein merely illustrate particular aspects of the invention. It should be appreciated that those skilled in the art will be able to devise various arrangements, which, although not explicitly described or shown herein, embody the principles of the invention. Furthermore, all examples and conditional language recited herein are intended to be only for pedagogical purposes to aid the reader in understanding the principles of the invention.

This disclosure and its associated references are to be construed as being without limitation to such specifically recited examples and conditions. Moreover, all statements herein reciting principles and aspects of the invention, as well as specific examples thereof, are intended to encompass both structural and functional equivalents thereof. Additionally, it is intended that such equivalents include both currently known equivalents as well as equivalents developed in the future, i.e., any elements developed that perform the same function, regardless of structure.