Nike, doctors team on tech to get athletes' eyes in shape

New gadgets developed by doctors in cooperation with Nike and Acuvue are helping athletes to improve their vision without surgery.

The Pitchback is a visual coordination tool used to improve the eyesight and performance of athletes. Nike

You can't do push-ups with your eyeballs, but doctors are discovering there are exercises that can make eyesight stronger.

Professional athletes spend countless hours improving their physical strength, speed, and agility. Now, thanks to new gadgets developed by Nike and optical science company Acuvue, high-performance professionals are working to better their vision without the need for surgery, glasses, or goggles.

For example, the Pitchback is a simple design employing a tightly wound net and a specially marked ball. The athlete throws a ball or beanbag into the net and attempts to catch it on the return flight. As the athlete's ability to catch improves, the ball or beanbag is thrown faster into the net, and more spin can be induced by the athlete during the throw. Special markings on the ball (including letters reminiscent of an eye chart) can also be employed to add additional focus challenges--like picking up a given letter while the ball is in motion.

Meanwhile, the Nike Vapor Strobe uses digital technology to train athletes' eyes for recognizing rapid and subtle changes in light and shape. Like the Pitchback, Nike's gadget looks to strengthen and accelerate the interaction of eye, mind, and bodily response by training and refinement of skill--not by physically altering the eye.

Does it work? I asked Rashawn Jackson, a professional football player with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. The fullback has moved back and forth between the active roster and practice squad, driving Jackson to push his body (and his eyes) to stay in top condition.

"Working with (the Nike and Acuvue tools) is an important part of my daily training," Jackson said. "It's especially important if you're going to be playing with a mobile, athletic quarterback like (Panthers starter) Cam Newton."

"Cam can improvise and make something out of nothing. So, I need to be able to focus in on him and what he's doing to adjust what I have to do on the field. These techniques help that focus."

As these techniques are refined and proliferated, it'll be interesting to see how they might be applied to more common, "civilian" professions. For now, the technology is firmly entrenched in the high-performance world.

The Nike Vapor Strobe uses digital visual technology to train the user's vision, improving acuity and clarity. Nike

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