July 11, 2008

Hesjedal, Allen, space legsOver the last two years, Team Garmin / Chipotle has earned the reputation as the leader in the fight against doping in sport. As part of this revolution, we are continuously driven to find new and innovative ways to ethically improve athletic performance. So when we were invited to compete at this year’s Tour de France, we immediately began to look for ways to help our athletes recover from the daily trauma and abuse that would be sustained by over 3,000 miles and half a million pedal strokes of the world’s most extreme endurance event.

Through word of mouth and some strong personal testimonials, we heard of a device being used by groups like the Navy SEALs, University of Florida and the Pittsburgh Pirates as a recovery tool and as a treatment for both acute injuries and post-operative rehabilitation. That device was the NormaTec MVP – a machine designed to externally compress the limbs in a way that mimics normal physiology with roots as a clinical treatment for patients with circulatory diseases stemming from diabetes to cancer. Although, our athlete’s aren’t sick, the inflammation, edema, and micro trauma normally caused by intense training and competition, though not nearly as severe, isn’t that different from cancer patients with Lymphedema or diabetics with chronic wounds that won’t heal. After speaking to Dr. Laura Jacobs, a rehabilitation physician and PhD bioengineer who invented the NormaTec, I was more than impressed with the extensive clinical evidence demonstrating that it was a viable way to treat those with disease and theoretically athletic performance.

On a certain level it would have been good enough to go with that assumption alone — that if the NormaTec could help with disease that it could also help with performance. And as athletes, we were all familiar with the benefits of the basic paradigm of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression – static or simple intermittent, and Elevation) for treating injuries and enhancing daily recovery. But in the end, what convinced us to test the unit for ourselves were two ideas presented by Dr. Jacobs. The first was that the static compression often seen with leg wraps, compression stockings or tights didn’t mimic the circulatory response seen by a normally contracting muscle. The second was that despite the anti-inflammatory effect of icing, the reduction of blood flow caused by ice actually impaired blood flow and healing. Ultimately, the NormaTec did mimic normal physiology through a dynamic waveform of compression and it was obviously effective at reducing the edema and inflammation caused by injury or disease.

Allen, Hesjedal spage legsWith that in mind, we asked if we could test some units before the Tour at the Tour of Georgia in late April. Though we didn’t have any way of initially quantifying the effect of the NormaTec, I trusted that as elite athletes, our riders are so in tune with their bodies that if the NormaTec had any effect at all that they might feel it. And while it all seemed rationale in theory, I was completely caught off guard by how immediate and positively our guys responded to their first treatments. Not only did they feel something was happening during the treatment, they all felt “better than average” on the days after they used the NormaTec. By the time we reached the Tour of Italy, our riders demanded the NormaTec on a daily basis, coining the device their “Space Legs” because of the moon boot look of the leg appliances.

Since the Tour of Italy, the riders have developed their own protocol for the Space Legs as part of their daily recovery routine. This includes a 30 minute session 2 to 3 times a day – once in the morning, once immediately before or after massage, and once just before bed. Their use is so ubiquitous that at any given time here at the Tour you’ll find one of our riders lying in bed nicely tucked inside their NormaTec MVP.

At this point in the game, “better” is average and with two days on the podium in our first Tour de France, and as highest ranked team for the last two days, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Normatec is and will continue to play a huge role in improving the daily performance of our athletes. Riding at this level in the Tour de France is truly a dream come true, and as we make our way to Paris, we’ll be putting on our space legs every morning and night and taking in every moment of our walk on the moon.