Nike's Breaking 2: Testing the limits of sports science with ground-breaking compression clothing

Sport360's Niall McCague on the compression clothing used by Nike during their historic Breaking 2 project.

Niall McCague
by Niall McCague
7th May 2017

article:7th May 2017

With 500 metres to go along the final stretch at Monza’s Formula One track, Eliud Kipchoge knew breaking the sub-two hour feat was slowly drifting away, but as each second passed he would also become part of history.

The Kenyan would run the world’s fastest marathon, shaving an incredible 2:32 off the current world record set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the Berlin Marathon in 2014.


He stood on the track after the race, hugging the pace makers and organisers, people who made the Nike Breaking 2 dream possible over the last number of months.

As Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese crossed the line minutes after, it was noticeable the distinguished clothing that each athlete wore – designed by a team of scientists to help create a comfortable uniform in order to reduce the number of distractions during their world record attempt.

The clothing was a vast contrast to the normal split short and loose vest that is sported by most marathon runners worldwide on a weekly basis, a choice of attire that is believed to create friction and distraction during long runs.

With this knowledge gathered in the months building-up to the Breaking 2 event, the team of scientists opted for an innovative design of a fitted vest, compression short, and compression bands for the arms.

The clothing was designed to unlock human potential and as Kipchoge’s scintillating time of 2:00:25 indicates – marginal gains prevailed.

Kipchoge, Tadese and Desisa run during Nike's Breaking 2.

Kipchoge, Tadese and Desisa run during Nike’s Breaking 2.

What was striking about the project was how Nike were able to appoint the services of some of the biggest names in sports science and help make the 42.195km distance as smooth as possible.

One of the men at the helm of the operation was Steve Jackson, Commercial Business Manager at Nike, who has been integral to the development of the Nike clothing over the preceding year.

A man who eats and breaths running just like the athletes themselves, Jackson told Sport360: “This was certainly one of our most challenging styles because we were taking on scientific evidence and applying what we learnt to elite running.

“As you’ve seen from marathon running, the tradition is to run the split short. There’s a huge amount of excess baggage flapping around and creating wind resistance from it. With our new compression style, there are a lot of benefits.

“Not only does the new style of shorts offer much comfort, but the compression bands around the front of the shorts meant the athletes were provided with a level of warmth that they normally wouldn’t get from the split short.”

With average temperatures at Monza around 12 degrees Celsius on race day, the compression shorts and vest were incredibly beneficial to helping the athletes stay comfortable and warm during the run.

As Kipchoge, Desisa and Tadese battled through the intense speed set by the pacemakers, the clothing was critical in assisting them to attempt to reduce the sub-two hour barrier.

“The challenge is how we provided the level of compression in the main muscle area of the leg but not restrict the movement through the hip,” said Jackson.

“One of the benefits of the split short is that it gives runners maximum freedom through the hips. That was something we had to dial in, and with the use of the engineering hit machine, we were able to provide a high level of compression through the short and lighten up the compression level through the hips.”

The uniform worn by each athlete was a significant factor in Nike’s quest to, not only attempt to break the record, but also to prove nothing is impossible.

In marathon running, every second is crucial – and as Nike’s new innovative clothing shows – this could be a ground-breaking transformation going forward.


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