Can you trick your spine into making you run faster?

Spine trickery

When reviewing technology for running, it's usually divided into two camps: either a long-honed category that's been improved upon time and again, or a crazy new idea that seems good in theory but in practice falls just short.

The Trick from X-Bionic falls between these two camps. It's a compression shirt that's filled with fancy lines and patterns, tightly sculpting itself all over your torso to get you running in the correct manner.

So far, so expected.

But check the back and it feels like something's got caught, as the spine is all wrinkled up – but that's 'The Trick'. As you move, it's supposed to heat up down the spine, triggering the sweat response more quickly and therefore allow you to get your energy into the race rather than wasting it regulating your body temperature.

There's a lot of science X-Bionic is quoting behind it too – with colours, graphs and breakdowns that seem legit.

Running man of Tech

In practice? It's nearly impossible to tell for the normal runner. The first time I went running in it, I sweated a lot. But it was a warm day and I was, well, running. Then there were a few more times – the GSK Human Performance Lab, for instance – that I cracked it out and I did find myself wondering why I was so hot all of a sudden, before remembering what I was wearing.

However, I can't tell whether that helped my performance or not. I got a bit hot and sweated, and if the science checks out, then it did. All I could really think was 'people can see me wearing this'.

The main pro was compression element, especially around the shoulders, being decent and helped maintain form. Oh, and one thing that really helps with running is maintaining a strong core, where you hold your stomach in.

Believe me when I say that if you wear this skin tight torso stocking, that's all you're going to be doing when people are walking around.

Officially a triathete

I've just returned from my first ever triathlon. It was brutal.

The worst bit is that it wasn't the effort of the swim/run/cycle that pushed me so hard – it was the bits in between that mentally taxed me and made the whole thing a hundred times harder.

Running man of Tech

It began a 5AM, when I was supposed to get up for the race which began at 6.30AM. Well, it would have been five o'clock if my brain hadn't decided 'you know what Gareth, you don't need ALL that 4.5 hours sleep. Let's wake up at 4.15 and stay awake for a bit, mmmmkay?'

Porridge downed, it was time for the final bag check. New Predator Flex goggles, Zoggs easy-on swim cap, new Pearl Izumi Elite tri suit, Pearl Izumi cycling shoes with Shimano cleats, High 5 Zero Electrolyte drink with caffeine in the bike bottle, Garmin Fenix 3 Watch, Wahoo Tickr X heart rate monitor and whichever socks I could find to go under the Adidas Ultra Boost.

Oh, and a Superman T-shirt because, you know, Superman.

Then to the bike – my newish Giant Rapid 400 (that's pretty much only seen the single mile cycle to the station and back for the last 5 months) with new Shimano pedals and bottle holder, plus the COMPLETELY over-the-top Laser Wasp Air helmet from Madison (it's for proper cyclists, which I am certainly not) and I was ready to go.

Running Man of Tech

Yeah - I know how it looks.

Except then I panicked that the Wahoo Tickr X might not be waterproof and switched to the original Garmin monitor. Then remembered I needed a pre-race shake so threw some protein powder, milk and a banana into the Nutri-bullet and bombed off.

I finally found the start at 6.05. The transition area shut at 6.15, and I was tired already – so the panic of working out where stuff went and how and why and what I need safety pins and 2 minutes to go until it shuts and where do you put your helmet and oh shit my goggles where are they and do I have a pound for the locker and oh crap I'm not wearing any shoes balls the man is about to shut the gate.

So after someone wrote some numbers on my arm and leg I was shivering by the pool, waiting for my 15 second slot to get in and slide through the water for 400m. All the adrenaline flowing through my system saw me a) forget all my technique and b) get out the pool light-headed and shaky, but at least I overtook two people.

Then I screwed up the act of putting on my cycle gear (helmet on first and then tried to put a T-shirt on top – nope) and wasted all the time I'd gained as I watched buckets of people swan off past me on their bikes.

Getting out on the bike was tricky. It was the first time I'd used pedal cleats in anger and running to the bike mount line felt like jogging in ice skates. Getting on the bike felt fine (despite the fact I suddenly understand why people had race belts as my number was flapping around behind me) but as the kilometres dragged by slowly, I realised I was all at sea.

People would fly past me in a lower gear, which created a worry spiral that I was always in the wrong gear. Then I found myself following a slower cyclist, and after passing two marshals I suddenly panicked that I was drafting, which I thought was a penalty offence, thus causing me to pedal wildly.

That continued for the 47 minutes the ride took (along with the ice skate pedal dance again to the transition area, where once again I made the mistake of getting confused over whether to wear socks or not) but once the shoes slipped on, it was like being home.

My numb feet instantly sprang back into life. My newly used muscles folded themselves nicely into the background, and the Ultra Boost provided a comfortable platform to spring off – where I'd had people flying past me, suddenly the reverse was in effect.

Running man of Tech

Sprint finish, banana in hand and it was all over. The Windsor Triathlon is going to be a lot tougher than I thought, but at least I've learned what I'm not so great at (although that appears to be: most of it).

Tech-wise, the Garmin was surprisingly redundant, as the swim and bike were journeys into the unknown and the run was just all out. However, it's great to have Garmin Connect upload to Strava so I could analyse and share the segments straight away to get feedback from others.

Windsor will be tough – I definitely need more bike training, so I'll need to see what the tech world can offer there to speed me through.

Update: turns out I came 99th out of 194. I'll take that for the first go…

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.