GE technology helps to analyze athletes’ bodies

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MADISON (WITI) -- The Green Bay Packers and a few other teams that have played in recent Super Bowls are among the few teams in the NFL to use technology discovered right here in Wisconsin. Two of the state’s most popular teams are using the machine made by General Electric.

Aidan McNamara sits as still as he can but that doesn't mean he's hiding from anyone.

At 6' 4" and weighing 240 pounds, the redshirt freshman football player at the University of Wisconsin stands out even as he's laying flat on his back.

McNamara is one of hundreds of UW athletes who regularly go through a machine called the Lunar iDXA Fan Beam Densitometer. Actually, no one calls it that even though that is the full name. The people who make the machine, General Electric, call it iDXA (pronounced eh-DECKS-uh) for short.

The iDXA uses low-dose radiation to scan a player's body composition.  UW scientists and trainers use the machine to clearly see where a player carries fat, muscle and bone.  The benefits of knowing that information go a long way in terms of knowing how an athlete is training and if adjustments in that training need to be made.

"It matters when you're talking about performance," explains Dr. Neil Binkley of UW School of Medicine.  "Fat doesn't help you run fast or jump high, muscle does. We are able to speak to the amount of muscle verses fat."

There are two main advantages of using the iDXA over traditional methods of measuring fat/muscle makeup. First, it's fast. A reading can be done in a matter of minutes. Secondly, they can target certain areas on an athlete's body. If a lineman's legs are big but mostly fat, that means more weight training is needed as well as a possible change in diet.

The Badgers aren't the only team in the state using the iDXA. The Green Bay Packers also invested in the machine which can go for as high as $120,000. The Packers declined to talk with FOX6 News about the device (their policy is never to talk about medical approaches and training techniques) -- but they have used one since 2006.  They also took part in a six-year study that looked at which positions worked best for players of certain body types.  To no one's surprise, linemen carry the most amount of fat but the iDXA found that many are not obese under the guidelines set up by other methods of testing such as body mass index (BMI).

Can a team justify the expense of the iDXA? Those who use it say yes. It helps an athlete's motivation by showing him or her the progress they've made in training as well as showing them how their muscles are improving after injury.

The remarkable thing is only six of the 32 NFL teams use the iDXA which seems odd to UW's Binkley.

"If I'm paying you $100 million to be my quarterback, why don't I know everything about you that I can?" Binkley said.