Here at Testify Performance, we are always investigating new technologies to enhance our client experience and ability to gather and analyze information related to performance. We take pride in using objective testing data to provide us with as much context as possible when designing training programs for our athletes. Working with VALD late this summer and fall was a welcomed addition to our Sport Science toolkit. The two pieces of technology that we utilized this off-season were force plates and sprint gates. We will dive into more detail with each system - what information they provide us with, how we incorporate the findings into training program design and most importantly, how they improve our client experience
"Hockey Players are skaters, not sprinters. At the end of the day, we are training them to be better on the ice, not the track."
Force Plates - VALD ForceDecks
What is a force plate, why does "force production" matter, and what do they allow us to do with training programs?
Force plates are highly valid and reliable, research grade force measuring devices. You can perform a wide range of jumps and isometric strength assessments to gain insight into the force production capabilities of athletes. Most of the sports we deal with are team-based sports that require the athlete to produce repeated bouts of a wide variety of dynamic movements (sprint, jump, cut, etc). At the most simple level, all dynamic movements require us to apply force into the ground in different ways. From a simple physics perspective - the more force we apply, or the faster we apply force into the ground, the higher we will jump or faster we will sprint. The most common way to use force plates is by performing a countermovement jump with hands on hips. The software behind the force plates produces well over 100 different metrics from a single jump - what metrics we look at will be dependent on the sport that an athlete plays. Different sports will require and reward different ways to produce force that will allow athletes to excel. Simply put, force plates allow us to be ultra-specific with how we prescribe loading parameters for our athletes to target specific adaptations.
An example below to make this more clear:
- Volleyball vs. Hockey: Ground-contact time, or how long an athlete has to apply force into the ground for their respective sport-specific movement can vary greatly. In volleyball for example, an average ground contact time for an approach jump when spiking a ball during an offensive attack situation is somewhere in the range of 0.16-0.19sec. This time frame is somewhere in the middle between short and long ground contact times, with more of a focus on elastic power and explosive power. In hockey, during the commonly referred to "first 3 strides" of acceleration, ground contact times range from 0.28-0.32sec, which is obviously much longer than an approach jump in volleyball.
- What are the implications? We will look at different metrics from the jumps performed on a force plate for volleyball players than we would for hockey players. For volleyball, we would look at metrics that describe how "elastic" a player is or how quickly they can apply force in their jumps, and look to increase those numbers. For hockey, we would look at metrics that focus more on power production and specifically, how much force an athlete is apply during a concentric phase of a jump or the "upward" portion of the jump.
You analyze different metrics for different sports, but how do you use them? Here is another, yet more complex example:
- A measure we like to look at with our high-level hockey players is "Mean Concentric Peak Power/kg Body Mass". This measure tells us how much & how quickly an athlete applies force during the concentric/upward portion of the jump divided by their body mass. From our research & experience, we have strong evidence the higher this number is, the faster your on-ice acceleration/first 3 strides will be. This will lead to better positioning, more puck battles won and hopefully more scoring chances.
- Example continued: Let's say Hockey Player A gets a grade of C on a certain metric and Player B gets a grade of A on the same metric. How would their program look different?
- Situation 1: Looking at Player A, the most important thing to do would be to take a deep look at his bodyweight & fat mass - are they carrying too much weight which could be having a negative impact on this number, if they were, the intervention would be some combination of nutritional intervention paired with a training program that would help drive reductions in fat mass while maintaining lean muscle mass.
- Situation 2: Looking at Player A, let's say they are lean and body mass is not the issue - then we would look at whether the issue is they are not applying enough force or they are not applying the force fast enough. Let's say they are not applying force fast enough - we would want to focus their strength & power work on rate of force development during the concentric phase of dynamic muscle actions. This would result in performing both single & double leg jump exercise variations from a loaded/low/bottom-up position at lighter loads (<25% BW), keeping reps in the range of 2-4 or repeated repetitions at max effort lasting <8sec. Resting enough is also critical with this type of training - 2min minimum is required for complete recovery and maximum intensity.
- How is this better than just simply doing "power" training which every trainer seems to say they can improve?
- Just because you are doing box jumps or plyometrics in your workout, does not mean that your power is improving. The force plates allow us to specifically identify which "type" of power is most lacking for you, and we aim to bring that value up to provide you with greater capacity to perform in your specific sport.
- Often times, facilities turn "power training" into conditioning - not resting enough and not performing exercises at intensities high enough to drive adaptation.
- You may be working on the wrong type of "power" - if you are using loads that are heavier and focus on late stage force development, but you have already obtained a grade of A at late stage force development, it probably isn't the best use of your time in the gym.
In summary, the force plates are an amazing tool that provides us with the ability to be ultra-specific in how we prescribe our athletes strength & power training. Being specific allows us to improve the "lowest hanging fruit" for our athletes as it relates to their dynamic movement capabilities. This means better quality training program design and better results for our athletes!
Sprint Gates - VALD SmartSpeed System
The VALD SmartSpeed System are laser timing gates that allow us to run a variety of speed & agility tests that measure speed and change of direction ability; a key aspect of any team sport athlete. These gates are a special system that have clear starting lights and give our performance coaches the ability to do reaction starts. Athletes names and times are displayed so entire group can see what the previous athletes time was and who is up next. It is an excellent way to drive competition and accountability amongst a group or team during testing.
How do you use the Spring Gates?
- Testing - on-ice and off-ice with hockey players, various distances with football & baseball players.
- Training - we sprint a lot in our training programs, getting feedback every rep in the form of time is a great way to make training that much more effective.
In summary, the sprint gates are a great testing & training tool that enhances our athlete experience. We believe using technology not just for assessment & diagnosis, but also to improve our athlete experience is key - we can be as scientific as we want, but at the end of the day, training is about putting in the work and enjoying the process - we believe these sprint gates really increase our athlete's enjoyment & engagement which will no doubt lead to better results.