My CNET colleague Michael Franco
"work with your body to enhance postural fitness, improve performance and relieve pain," I stretched my achy back, rotated my sore shoulder, cracked my neck bones and volunteered to try it out.
The concept behind the seamless AlignMe Interactive Bra is very similar to what you see with Kinesio Taping, a method of using flexible fabric tape to stabilize muscles. My physical therapist relied on this quite a bit when I was working through a shoulder injury.
Hidden inside the bra's construction (and visible through the window-like openings in the back) are a series of elastic bands that provide strategic resistance for certain muscles. Alignmed calls this "NeuroBand Technology." The company even went so far as to have its garments registered as "physical medicine devices" with the FDA.
Alignmed is a Santa Ana, California, company founded in 2005 that offers a lineup of shirts and bras aimed at improving posture and assisting with upper-body muscular issues. Many of the products are available for anyone to buy, but some are by prescription only. The SpinalQ shirt, for example, is designed as a bracing system for rehabbing back, shoulder and spinal injuries. The Interactive Bra does not require a doctor's note, which is good, because asking for a doctor to order underwear for me just sounds awkward.
When it comes to injuries, I've got plenty. I have a permanently wonky lower back that likes to slip out of alignment and leave me flat-out from time to time. I get tense muscles behind my shoulder blades. I also destroyed my left shoulder a couple of years ago, leaving it weak and occasionally still painful. And that's just the upper body. I also train in Aikido, a Japanese martial art that involves lots of rolling, hand-to-hand techniques and weapons work.
I took the Interactive Bra to the dojo, a practice space for martial arts, and strapped myself into it, which is a pretty apt description of what it feels like to put it on. It has a zipper that goes up the front and, boy, is it tight. You have no choice but to have good posture when you wear it. It doesn't allow you to slouch around.
I spent several weeks putting the bra through the crucible of Aikido training. Even after getting accustomed to it, I still felt a bit like I was squeezing myself into an upper-body sausage casing every time I put it on, but this sensation subsides as you get out and start moving.
My experience with the Interactive Bra is purely anecdotal, but the biggest change I noticed was more physical comfort during weapons training, an activity that requires repeatedly hefting my hands over my head while in possession of a wood sword or staff. This is normally a bit aggravating to my bad shoulder. I suspect the posture improvements forced by three weeks of training with the bra helped alleviate some of these problems.
I would like to see a few design improvements in the next iteration of the Interactive bra. The zipper is handy, but you have to be very careful to make sure it's locked before you start up your activity (otherwise it will find its way down -- again, potentially awkward). The feel of the zipper metal on your skin is a minor distraction. I have muscular shoulders and found the armholes too tight around the bottom, though the rest of the bra was a perfect fit. Softer material around the armholes would make this easier to deal with.
Alignmed isn't the only company making futurist undergarments. Maidenform came out with someimbued with caffeine (and received a lawsuit for its troubles). Last year, a British inventor unveiled men's boxers that supposedly . Before that, came out in Japan.
The Alignmed bra, which comes in four sizes, is pricey for a sports bra ($95, £62, AU$132), but it's not a regular sports bra. Will it make your aches and pains disappear? It's hard to predict. It's going to be a very personal experience that depends on your problem areas. If you've had success with strategic taping of upper-torso muscles, then this might be an easier way to achieve the same effect.
It's certainly easier than keeping a physical therapist in your trunk to tape you up every time you step into the gym.