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Pacific Northwest | October 3, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 3, home
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Systems Check
Is this gadget the 'wave' of the future, or just entertaining?
To chart Seahawk Heath Evans' progress as he works out, trainer Joel Jamieson fits him with OmegaWave's electrodes at EndZone Athletics.
Ever get the feeling that your body isn't quite up for today's scheduled workout? I feel that way almost daily now. But you must also have those days when you feel more capable than what your training regimen calls for. I get that once in a blue moon.

So when I learned of a high-tech gadget that claims to give athletes an inside peek into when the body is primed for action or in need of rest, I jumped at the chance.

The device, OmegaWave, tests your physiological systems in just a few minutes while you're resting, on your back. No treadmill tests or blood draws. Just metal clamps on ankles and wrists, and a few electrodes fastened to your chest.

The test measures the functioning of the central nervous system, as well as cardiopulmonary, hormonal, and detoxification systems. It monitors heart rates and slow brain waves and produces personal data in the form of graphs, charts and advice. Essentially, the process is like the diagnostic systems check mechanics would perform on your car's engine to make sure it's running smoothly.

Scientists of the former Soviet Union developed the OmegaWave. Some of them moved to Eugene, Ore., and began a company called OmegaWave Technologies. The device has been on the market about four years and is used by universities from Stanford to Duke, college, pro and international amateur teams, and individual athletes, like one who used it to prep for the Olympics. Researchers use it, as do companies developing sports nutrition.

Company president Allen Huffstutter said three systems are being used in Washington. EndZone Athletics in Kirkland, where I was tested, is the only athletic facility in King County that uses it. The Bellingham Athletic Club has one and a Seattle-area doctor is using the system to do fibromyalgia research. Some potential users are still waiting for more independent testing.

The device can cost as much as $35,000. The Bellingham Athletic Cub got one three years ago and uses it to screen new members, help plan and monitor training programs and even to complement programs targeting weight loss, says Cathy Buckley, club owner. "We've actually sent members to the doctor after we found abnormal heart and stress readings with the device," she says.

Joel Jamieson, director of EndZone Athletics, has administered the OmegaWave tests to ex-University of Washington football star Reggie Williams, kick boxers, Seahawks and other elite athletes. The system lets each assess how his or her body is responding and adapting to training. It can be used to shape protocol, too, including when the body needs recovery time.

"An athlete like (Seahawk fullback) Heath Evans, or any athlete, is interested in making sure their body is responding properly to their training and that their bodies are going to be in optimal condition when they need them to be during the season," Jamieson says.

But can it help us normal folk? My test wound up with several pages of graphs and colorful charts about my various internal systems. The stack included an overall evaluation: Central nervous system: sufficient resistance to physical and psychic loads. Gas exchange and cardiopulmonary system: early indication of hyperfunction. Detoxification system: tendency toward overload. Hypothalamic-hypophysical-adrenal systems: Insignificant hypofunction. It also assessed my reactions, which was my only mark that gave me pride.

Jamieson explained it was just a snapshot of what was going on that particular day. Such results, he says, provide a baseline for future testing and for developing individualized training — also based on goals, lifestyle and training experience. That individualized method is safer and brings faster results, he said.

He typically charges $100 for the first consultation, which includes interpreting the results and setting up a training plan. Pricing for follow-up tests varies, but generally costs about $25.

Is such a device necessary? Some think so, some not. Is it something we civilians could gain from? Huffstutter says so. The OmegaWave measures and interprets adaptation and reaction to stress, something many of us don't have a feel for. And we lack the body-awareness, time and even-keel approach that true athletes have. In fact, the system is being used in Holland by a researcher who is studying corporate burnout.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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