Athletic tape has been used in sports for many years. Taping is usually used as a means to protect against injury or to support an injured body part. A special type of tape popular within athletics, Kinesiology tape (KT), has been reported to improve athletic performance for various reasons, such as improved proprioception, increased muscle activation, increased muscle strength, altering perception of exertion, and decreasing pain. However, numerous studies have shown that KT has had no effect on athletic performance (2,3,7–9,16). A newer specialty tape, Rocktape (RT), claims to have superior adhesiveness vs. other types of specialty tapes. In addition, RT is applied via a “power taping” method, which was specifically created for performance enhancement. Although there are limited studies investigating the effectiveness of RT, one study has shown that performance and efficiency increased in cyclists using the tape (29).
Gross cycling efficiency is calculated as the ratio of the work accomplished by an individual (the output) to the amount of energy needed to accomplish that work (the input). It is essentially the percentage of total work that was used to produce external work (24). Gross cycling efficiency values have been shown to be highly related to performance in endurance cyclists (18,19). In addition, increased levels of efficiency have been shown to be correlated with power output, which is a key determinant of cycling performance (17).
Several studies have demonstrated that significant muscle fatigue can limit performance and efficiency (8,18,22,23,26). Theurel et al. (30) demonstrated that maximal power output significantly decreased after only 15 minutes of cycling. Similarly, Bentley et al. (2) demonstrated that the power output of the quadriceps muscle significantly decreased after endurance cycling exercise. Recently, Passfield and Doust (27) investigated cycling efficiency and performance and found that efficiency decreased after prolonged cycling exercise. If RT can improve performance and efficiency, perceived exertion may be lower at a given level of intensity. Therefore, based on the RT manufacturer's claims and one previous study on RT and cycling efficiency, the purpose of this study was to determine the ability of RT to improve cycling efficiency and lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) at 2 different intensity levels.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
The study used an experimental research design to examine the effects of RT on cycling efficiency in 18 recreationally trained cyclists. Each participant performed 5 cycling sessions. The Borg RPE scale is an accurate and reliable measure of perceived effort, especially as the intensity of exercise increases (4–6). Overall RPE and leg, arm, and chest RPEs were obtained (RPE-O, RPE-L, RPE-A, and RPE-C, respectively). Gross efficiency and heart rate (HR) were also measured. The order of conditions was determined by a Latin square, with each subject being randomly assigned to an order of conditions (60% intensity with tape, 60% intensity with no tape, 80% intensity with tape, and 80% intensity with no tape).
Subjects (N = 18; 2 females and 16 males) were competitive cyclists (age, 44.44 ± 9.18 years; height, 178.71 ± 9.45 cm; mass, 82.21 ± 12.27 kg; body mass index, 25.33 ± 2.7; peak V02 = 50.15 ± 6.33 ml·kg−1·min−1) having competed in either bike races or triathlons, for at least 3 years. Before participation, each subject completed an American Heart Association (AHA)/American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) preparticipation health history questionnaire, as well as a lower-body injury questionnaire. For inclusion into this study, all subjects were to be free from lower leg injuries and classified as low risk by the ACSM standards. The Human Subject's Institutional Review Board of Western Michigan University approved the study, and all subjects signed an informed consent before participation.
Subjects reported to the Human Performance Research Laboratory for a total of 5 sessions. Day 1 was designated as the orientation and peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2 test day. Days 2–5 were testing sessions, either 60 or 80% intensity and with or without RT. On day 1, subjects completed an informed consent and screening forms. Subjects had their arms, legs, neck, and back measured to determine the length of RT needed to apply to the designated body parts for each cycling condition with RT. After body measuring, subjects were fitted to the cycle ergometer first using the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) landmark when standing next to the saddle followed by measuring the knee angled to 25–30° at the bottom of the down pedal stroke (28) when sitting on the saddle, with minor adjustments made based on the subject's preference. Once the cycle was adjusted for each subject, the angle and saddle height were recorded for future trials. An electromechanically braked Corival Cycle Ergometer by Lode (Groningen, the Netherlands) was used for all testing sessions. A 2-way Hans Rudolph mouthpiece with vacuumed headgear, a nose clip, and Polar T31 HR monitor (Lake Success, NY) were adjusted to the subjects before testing, connected to the Parvomedics TrueOne2400 metabolic cart (Sandy, Utah), followed by a 2-minute rest phase to accommodate to the headgear and mouthpiece.
The peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2 test began by having the subject complete a 10-minute warm-up at 50 W. After the 10-minute warm-up period, the trial began by having the wattage increased to 60 W and increasing by 10 W every minute until the subject could no longer cycle (i.e., reached volitional fatigue). Peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2 was measured via the metabolic cart, and peak power was recorded. Power output for subsequent trials was calculated using the ACSM leg ergometry equation for 60 and 80% of peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2 (15).
During the RT conditions, investigators applied RT to the anterior arms and legs, and posterior neck and back, based on the previous body measurements and according to the RT-recommended power taping procedure for cycling (Figure 1). The investigators were trained by an RT-certified technician. Before taping, investigators cleaned each area with an alcohol prep pad. The lower leg strip started from the base of the first metatarsal, was split at the tibial tuberosity, and anchored around the patella. The upper leg strip began at the superior pole of the patella, and it split around the patella and anchored to the tibial tuberosity; the strip then followed the upper leg and anchored at the ASIS. The back strip started at the posterior superior iliac spine and was anchored at the medial border of the scapula, just lateral to the spine. The back strips were anchored by a horizontal strip across the L5 vertebrae. The strip for the neck started at the subject's hairline and anchored to the back strip. These strips were anchored down by a horizontal strip across the C7 vertebrae to the acromion clavicular (AC) joint. The arm strips started at the first metacarpophalangeal joint and curved from the bicipital groove to the sternum. All tape was applied bilaterally by the same investigator to ensure reliability.
Subjects returned to the laboratory on 4 more occasions to complete the 60 and 80% trials using RT or no tape conditions. Subjects were fitted to the bike using the recorded measures from their first session and connected to the metabolic cart, as described previously. Each subject chose their cadence, and a metronome was set to the preferred cadence pace, which was kept the same for all subsequent exercise sessions. A 2-minute rest phase was completed to familiarize the subjects with the headgear and mouthpiece. After the rest phase, subjects completed a 10-minute warm-up at 30% of their peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2 followed by the predetermined exercise intensity. Subjects pedaled at their designated cadence, and the power output was increased by 25 W every minute until the specified intensity was reached, 60 or 80%, respectively. Upon reaching the desired exercise intensity, subjects cycled until they maintained a steady state, which was determined when their V[Combining Dot Above]O2 value no longer increased and leveled off. Once steady state was established, subjects cycled for 5 minutes. Heart rate was measured each minute throughout the session, and RPEs were recorded every 2 minutes, following the warm-up. All sessions were separated by at least 48 hours and were completed within 3 weeks of the first session. All subjects were told that they could continue their normal exercising habits between trials, but they could not participate in any new activity and could not participate in exercises of high intensity while participating in the study.
Data were analyzed using SPSS 20.0 statistical software (IBM Corporation, Chicago, IL, USA). A repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to detect differences between taping and intensity conditions for all RPEs and gross efficiency. Statistical significance was set a priori at p ≤ 0.05.
Rating of Perceived Exertion
Repeated-measures ANOVA for RPE-O revealed no significant interaction between intensity and tape (F(1,17) = 0.01; p = 0.94). However, there was a significant main effect for tape (F(1,17) = 6.26; p = 0.02) and intensity (F(1,17) = 67.66; p < 0.001). With RT, the RPE-O was 13.12 ± 0.60 (mean ± standard error), and with no tape, it was 13.95 ± 0.42 (Figure 2).
For RPE-C, there was no significant interaction between intensity and tape (F(1,17) = 0.11; p = 0.74). However, there was a significant main effect for tape (F(1,17) = 6.20; p = 0.02) and intensity (F(1,17) = 30.67; p < 0.001). With RT, the RPE-C was 11.20 ± 0.64, and with no tape, it was 11.85 ± 0.71.
For RPE-L, there was not an interaction between intensity and tape (F(1,17) = 0.25; p = 0.62) or main effect for tape (F(1,17) = 3.91; p = 0.64). A significant main effect was found for intensity (F(1,17) = 84.83; p < 0.001).
For RPE-A, there was not a significant interaction between intensity and tape (F(1,17) = 0.92; p = 0.35) or a main effect for tape (F(1,17) = 3.32; p = 0.09). A main effect for intensity was found (F(1,17) = 25.41; p ≤ 0.001). For all main effects of intensity, the 80% condition elicited significantly higher RPE values than the 60% condition (Table 1).
Repeated-measures ANOVA for gross efficiency (Figure 3) revealed no interaction between intensity and tape (F(1,17) = 1.85; p = 0.19). There was no main effect of tape (F(1,17) = 0.27; p = 0.61) but a significant main effect of intensity was found (F(1,17) = 5.47; p = 0.03) with the 80% intensity condition, eliciting a greater level of efficiency compared with the 60% intensity condition.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of RT on RPE and cycling efficiency. Although the RT was not able to increase gross efficiency in these subjects, it did elicit a 5.9% lower RPE-O compared with no tape. Overall RPE was used as the primary measure based on a previous work, which showed that RPE values for the overall body are more appropriate than those given for other areas of the body while cycling (14). These results are similar to other studies that showed RPE-O to be lower while wearing tape. Kim and Seo (21) found that RPE decreased while wearing KT when performing muscular power tests. Another study showed that RPE was lower while wearing KT on the low back during patient transfer (20). In addition, Clifford and Harrington (9) found that scores on the Numerical Rating Scale for pain decreased significantly while wearing tape when performing squats.
When examining the differentiated RPE scores, the results of the study showed that application of RT played a significant factor. It could be plausible that tactile input on the back for the RT creates an awareness of the thorax position, improving form and allowing for better diaphragm expansion and contraction, thus explaining the RPE-C vs. RPE-A or RPE-L (11,20). For RPE-L and RPE-A, no differences were found with the application of the tape. The increased proprioception from tape is thought to help increase range of motion and optimally align joints (1,3). If RT helped to properly align joints, such as the patellofemoral joint, one could expect better coordination and movement, making the movement requirements of cycling feel easier. However, the RPE-L results do not support this assertion. Additionally, perception of exertion is initiated in the joints, muscles, and skin at the beginning of an activity, whereas feelings from circulatory and pulmonary systems dominate during exercise (5). This could help explain why there were no differences between tape conditions in RPE-L and RPE-A.
Perhaps, RPE values would be altered depending on the amount of time RT is worn. Multiple studies involving specialty tape theorized that no differences were seen with tape because it was not left on long enough to produce an effect (10,12,25,29,31). Nakajima and Baldridge measured peak torque 10 minutes after KT application and found no significant improvement. However, peak torque increased 24 hours after the application, suggesting that the tape needs prolonged application to produce benefits (25). Stedge et al. (29) investigated KT application on the gastrocnemius and concluded that KT needs more than 24 hours to produce effects. The subjects in the present study wore RT for the length of a single session, which lasted about 30–45 minutes. This may explain why there were no significant differences in RPE for arms and legs between taping conditions. Although our study was not designed to study the influence of the length of time the tape is left on the subject, future studies should assess the length of time the tape is on the subject to see if there is any further support for the conclusion of Stedge et al.
Gross efficiency was measured in this study, which is a common measure used in cycling performance studies, to determine the effects of RT. However, the taping condition did not affect gross efficiency, but it was found that the level of intensity affected efficiency values. Efficiency is argued to play a key role in athletic performance, and several investigations have examined this relationship. Horowitz et al. (17) found that average power output was significantly better during a 1-hour cycling performance test for the group with higher efficiency. Passfield and Doust (27) found that subjects with higher efficiencies had a higher mean power output. The manufacturers of RT speculate that athletic performance will improve as a result of increased efficiency while using the product. However, there is no physiological consensus on how specialty tapes could improve performance by increasing efficiency. The tension in tape provides a proprioceptive stimulus to cutaneous mechanoreceptors, which could increase blood flow to the muscles. An increase in blood flow could potentially affect the excitability of a muscle, which could increase the strength of the muscle, leading to increased athletic performance. This mechanism is speculated, and there is no evidence to support it and needs to be further investigated.
The results of this study showed that RT does not improve cycling efficiency. However, it did lower RPE-O and RPE-C. This may increase performance from a perceptual standpoint. If riders perceive that cycling is easier (although physiologically it is not), they may strive to continue at their preferred pace with a greater mental drive (lower central fatigue) to move forward. This suggests that although RT does not directly increase performance physiologically, the mere application of the tape may still provide some benefits. Although the use of RT or other specialty tapes are mainstream, the application before athletic events should not necessarily be discouraged.
The authors thank Cody Closson for his assistance in data collection and initial draft of the manuscript.
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