October 23, 2017

Loughborough University Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre

I recently started as a student at Loughborough University. Loughborough is renowned for it’s sporting pedigree, having won the university sporting championships (BUCS) consecutively for the last 36 years. This sporting success, backed up by the facilities available and the quality of athletes who train at Loughborough on a daily basis all attracted me to the university.

Since being here, I have had the opportunity to get involved with a large range of different activities and sporting studies which are always ongoing throughout the campus.


Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre

One of these studies which I have been involved with took place within the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre. This centre looks at and –

‘studies the interaction of people with their physical environment. This can be an indoor or outdoor environment, a working or leisure environment. The interactions studied can range from comfort to stressful experiences.’

The research facility is run by Professor George Havenith along with multiple PhD researchers, where they work on a daily basis looking to develop and improve comfort and perception within products which have human interaction. Projects which they have been involved with include the development of a heated, insulated tracksuit for the British Cycling team at the London 2012 Olympics. This tracksuit maintains muscle warmth after the warm up whilst the athletes wait for their race in the call room.

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Many of the large sportswear brands use the university to outsource much of the high end research which they need to have done in order to improve their products and technology. Loughborough is the obvious place for any of these companies and it had grown a strong connection with many of these connections due to the facilities. For example, within the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre alone, the researchers have access to:

  • Environmental test suite
  • Vibration rig
  • Manikin test rooms
  • Light and vision research laboratories

Sweat Perception Study

I was fortunate enough to get involved with one of their most recent studies which was looking at sweat perception and absorption in running shirts. The Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre was contacted by a sportswear company to help with this research, with the study being conducted by PhD student Margherita Raccuglia, a Doctoral Researcher in Environmental Ergonomics and Exercise Physiology.

For this study, a number of participants were required to help get experimental and perception data of sweat levels whilst running over various periods of time.

Each participant would run in seven separate trials which spanned from 5 minutes to 50 minutes of continuous running. Every five minutes, wetness perception was recorded on a scale of extremely dry (0) to extremely wet (30). This perceived wetness was also monitored on different areas of the body to help determine those areas which were more susceptible to sweat and therefore a higher perceived wetness than others.

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The trials were carried out within the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre at Loughborough in one of their environmental chambers. This was done on a treadmill in the camber to maintain all of the control variables which couldn’t be maintain if carried out outdoors. Here, the researchers have the ability to set the environmental factors to both ends of the extreme.

Pilot studies showed that the best temperature to conduct the study was at 27.C with a humidity of 50% and wind speed of 1.5 m/s. I definitely found that this was a climate which was warm and produced a lot of sweat, especially during the 50 minute trial. The sweat and temperature levels were analysed after the test was complete, with infrared images being taken to demonstrate the areas which had sweated the most.

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All environmental factors within the chamber were configurable
All environmental factors within the chamber were configurable

This study is to continue, comparing the amount of sweat absorption within a highly absorbent material of cotton (the shirt which I wore during the testing) and an elite, high performance running shirt from the sports clothing manufacturer who is funding the study.

As a result of this research, it will hopefully provide the company with the necessary information to help improve their products in the future. By understanding how humans perceive the levels of sweat produced whilst running and the areas which are affected the most, the development of new running shirts will be able to take this into account and look for new ways to reduce overall wetness perception whilst running and reduce the amount of sweat which remains absorbed in the shirt.

This will therefore improve how athletes feel and perceive how sweaty they are whilst running, helping to ensure a more comfortable and enjoyable experience whilst running and sweating.

I would also like to say thank you to all of the researchers and Margherita especially, at the Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre and Loughborough University for allowing me to get involved and use their work for Run Reporter.

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