Force plates can be a very important part of testing for things like strength, power, and rate of force development.
But getting started can be overwhelming.
In this podcast we talk about some tips on how to start using force plates to program athletes in the gym.
To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to mikereinold.com/askmikereinold.
#AskMikeReinold Episode 313: Using Force Plates to Help Program for Athletes in the Gym
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• Understanding Rate of Force Development
All right, so Stephanie from California: “I want to purchase force plates to help me build better training programs for my athletes. There seems like there are a ton of things to look at. Where would you recommend I get started with something simple?”
I love it. And you know what? I think, Stephanie, you’ve already made the first step in this force plate journey, where you’ve identified that there’s a lot of complexity here and you want to start simple, right? I like that. So I think that’s a good way to start this. I was not sure by this question, Stephanie, it seems to me like this is more from a strength and conditioning perspective and a performance perspective than the rehab. So, let’s keep a discussion on that today. But maybe we’ll do another episode with force plates for the rehab setting in the future. I like that. But let us start up Jonah. Obviously Jonah coordinates our sport science here at Champion. We have been doing a lot of force plates for a bit of time here at Champion. I know this is a question that we dealt with ourselves, but I know it is something that we are evolving over time.
What would you say to somebody that wants to get started with force plates? There is so much to look at. Where do you get started? What is the biggest bang for your buck to get started using force plates for programming?
Yeah, I could not agree more with you on admitting that it is overwhelming is a really good starting point, and when you open up your list of metrics, there are a hundred things to choose from. It is quite overwhelming. So I think you need your test selection and then you need your metric selection. So one is just asking what your population is that you work with. If you tend to work with a lot of younger athletes, you probably do not need as big of a variety of tests with those lower training age. There is not as much individualization needed. They probably can all benefit from getting stronger. If that is the type of population you are working with, honestly just a counter movement jump would be a really good starting place. It is something that everybody’s going to be fairly familiar with, and you get a ton of good information from it as long as you’re executing it pretty well.
So if you know that a counter movement jump is going to be your go-to test, then the next question would be what metrics you want to look at. So in terms of some ideas from that, I think RSI modified, which is looking at how high you’re jumping compared to how long it takes you to jump, is one of our kind of go-to measures. It touches on a whole lot of different aspects. You’re not going to get a really good score on that if you do not jump high and if you cannot move quick. Once you are looking at your RSI modified, you want to know why they do or don’t score well on that. So from there, looking at your jump height and then your contraction time or time to take off is the next really good step. That starts to give you a little bit of insight into why somebody does well. Maybe they move extremely quickly, but they do not get all that high.
In which case, probably the force production end is what you need to continue to focus on with your athlete. Whereas, say they jump relatively quickly, but it takes them a long time to get there, then more of that rate of force development stuff is what you want to look at, and if you’re curious about that, there is a former episode of the Ask Mike Reinold show you can go to. I think starting with a really simple counter movement jump is probably going to be your go-to test. And honestly, starting with just those three measures there, you can start to look at what matters in your specific sport. So if you have, like we do, we have athletes from all different sports, so it helps to stay a little more generic, but then we will get a little bit more specific with our baseball players or our golfers.
If you’re working with a lot of alignment and football, the measures they are going to care about are going to be a whole lot different than what Dave’s gymnasts are going to care about. You can definitely start to get specific, but by starting with those three pretty basic measures of the easiest test to execute, I think that’s going to let you just get comfortable using force plates and you can build from there.
I love it. Jonah, when does this start to become important in the development of an athlete? Is this really important information for a 10-year-old versus an 18-year-old versus a professional athlete? When do you start using this data even more?
I think it is important to track from day one because kids love knowing if they are jumping higher than they were before. It helps them gain confidence, helps them just enjoy the training process. From an actual programming perspective, I would say at least you’re going to be a year into the training process before you are going to change even one exercise based on any of these numbers. There is definitely a time period there. As we get older, with some of the professional baseball players we are working with, we’re testing isometric, mid thigh, pulse counter movement, jumps, squat jump, hop test. We are doing some netball testing and a lot of their program is being dictated by the various numbers we see, and it kind of just scales from your beginner new athletes where we are testing just to see progress, but we are not changing anything, all the way up to those highest level athletes where a lot of their program is changing.
I like that because I got nervous when I read that question from Stephanie. I get nervous that somebody is going to start over-emphasizing this with the 12-year old that just got to the gym for the first time. So I like that. I like how you said too, start with the counter movement jump. I mean there is just so much information you can get from that. I will share from my experience that I was nervous a little bit about just looking at vertical and just looking at counter movement jumps. But I dug into this a little bit. I talked to a bunch of people. I talked to some of the biomechanists that I am friends with, and there really is just a ton of carryover with that, right? And even some of the things we started looking at the biomechanics of pitching in our lab with the White Sox.
Some of the things we started looking at are even some of our lateral horizontal type movements that we do in our athletes, vertical just with their shin angled, right? So instead of the shin being completely upright, your shin’s just at a 45 degrees angle and then you jump vertically from 45 degrees. I just share that with the person that is like, “I am not just working with basketball athletes,” right? It’s very obvious in something like that. I think there is benefit for looking at this for a lot of different force productions and the lower half really does that. So Dave, what do you think? I don’t want to cut Jonah off, sorry.
I was just going to follow up on that by saying you can start to do some of those little investigations on your own. For one of my projects for my master’s, I looked at what measures from a counter movement jump relate to exit velocity among hitters. That helps us know now when we are working with high school hitters, especially because that was the age I worked with, what measures are going to mean the most to them when it comes to trying to hit the ball harder. If you work with a lot of football players and they’re getting ready for combines and pro-agility is a big test you’re trying to improve them on, take a look at what measures relate back to your pro-agility scores, and that might give you an idea of what things matter for you. Because there are so many measures out there that there is probably something that does relate quite highly to the thing you care about.
Nice. Yeah, good point. Dave?
I just want to say that I consider myself the polar end of Jonah, which is Jonah’s super well-knowledgeable and I am literally just dipping my toes into the research, and he sent me articles because I am just starting to do this with more athletic performance for gymnastics and I think the best thing you can do when you first get it is talk to someone who really knows the system well like Jonah. Be like, “okay, what should I measure and what should I look at?” and then just get reps under your belt of just testing people. I have some people who are post-op ACL and we have some other people that are just trying to do every two weeks, just trying to do a counter of movement, a squat jump, and a hop test, and then I literally take the data and think about what it might mean and I walk over to Jonah or Diwesh and I am like, “okay, am I just thinking through this correctly of this and this?”
And they’ll say, “you are right here or you’re not here.” And I’ll be like, “okay, well programming-wise, what does that mean?”
I think that fluid conversation of small five-minute chunks and just getting into a habit of testing people, because I’m probably terrible. I probably still do a bunch of stuff, not great, but I am still just getting reps in and I think that is better than just staring at vault data and being like “I don’t know what to do.”
I think we have all felt that, right? We all look at that, and the potential, and you get really excited about it and then you realize, let’s just get good at a few things before we start getting super fancy.
Diwesh, from your perspective, how has your programming changed with force plates? What do you do different based on this information that Jonah was talking about?
I think it simply just provides us another level of customization. I think we have always been, for a long time, good at looking at movement competencies, movement quality, doing all of our table assessments, our CPS assessments, and knowing how someone moves, and then talking to them about their goals and relate all of that together. Well, now we have a layer of how they move, their goals, their sport requirement, but also their current physical outputs, and we get to really enhance some of that stuff. Now, going back to what Jonah said, it does take a long time for us to accumulate data that is going to be consistent enough for us to say, “you know what? I think I have enough data points where now I think I understand the athlete.” And then I think on another level, even if we go back to what Dave was saying about just getting enough practice reps in, if you are not administrating the test pretty consistently, a counter-movement jump can show you completely different metrics if you go slow on your acentric, versus if you go faster on your eccentric, right?
Those are completely two different data points. That is not even speaking the same languages. You are not comparing apples to apples, you are comparing apples to oranges. I think being really consistent in how you input the data or how you intake the data is going to be important, and then once you have a good few data points, then you can really start to see trends and say, all right, “this person’s…”, like Jonah was giving the example of the RSI mod, right? That is a really good one. “This person’s RSI mod is actually really low.” Well, is it because they are not moving fast, or is it because they are not forceful enough to project themselves off the ground? And we know that RSI mod is a pretty good indicator of just how quickly you can make that contraction happen while having a good effective output. I think it is stuff like that. To go back to your question, I think it simply helps us be a little bit more pinpoint in our programming and really make specific moves within the program that affect that one piece of the outcome measure.
Awesome, and hopefully help take that athlete to the next level, right? Because sometimes they are trained in not necessarily the wrong thing, but they train the same thing over and over again. Maybe there is a potential to increase capacity in some way that we did not realize before we started digging deep into these differences.
I think our industry is definitely very guilty of… We pride ourselves in being strength coaches, and I think we have even shortened up our title from strength and conditioning coaches to just strength coaches, where we were so obsessed with just getting stronger and stronger and stronger where we just thought that if we just add 10 pounds to someone’s deadlift every offseason that they are going to get better at their sport. Whereas I think this force plate technology has really made us rethink that and say, “is strength really the only thing that we are chasing?” What are some other pinpoint data points that we can find and improve athleticism that way, or improve performance within that sport that way instead of just saying squat heavier, deadlift heavier, bench heavier. We know that getting strong is important, but it is not the only thing that is important for sports performance. I think that’s really opened up our eyes, at least, and hopefully, the rest of the community starts really finding some passion in using this technology to help grow the profession in general.
Awesome. I don’t think I could think of a better way of finishing the episode with that. So, thank you. That was perfect. Stephanie, hopefully, that helps you get started. Start simple, and as your experience with the force plates grows, I look forward to you sharing that with all of us, with what you’re learning because it would be great for us to all share and hear how we’re applying it to our different athletes. Thanks so much.
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