Force plates can be very valuable in quantifying certain metrics that can monitor progress over time. We’re using these for both our performance and rehabilitation athletes.
Here’s what we have seen so far.
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#AskMikeReinold Episode 325: Using Force Plates to Show Progress
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All right, today we have a question from Tom from Wisconsin. Tom asks, “I know from social media that Champion has been using force plates with their sports performance athletes. Can you share some of the things that you have learned? What progress have you seen and what adjustments have you made to your programming based on what you’ve learned?”
Awesome. Thank you, Claire. Thank you, Tom from Wisconsin. Again, another good question. We get some really good questions from some of the listeners here.
But force plates are one of those things that I think a lot of people are slowly incorporating into their practices, both sports performance, physical therapy, that sort of thing. And if you’re like us, when you first get started, you’re inundated with information and you’re stunned with the amount of stuff that you can see. And then you have to take a big step back and say, “Well, what’s important to me and what can we do?”
So, heck, we’ve had quite a few years of experience now slowly building up our force plate and the data that we have at Champion. So why don’t we start with Jonah? So Jonah’s the director of our sports science. Diwesh is our director of performance here. I think you guys can really comment on some of the things we’ve seen. But what I particularly liked about what Tom said is not only what have we seen from the progress, but what have we learned and what are we doing different because of all this amazing information we now have. Jonah, you want to start that one?
Yeah. First I’ll say is definitely just learned how complicated it all is and how impressive it is for people who truly, truly understand this, some of the researchers that I’ve learned a lot from like Dan Cohen or Paul Comfort. So that’s the first one. It is really complicated when you first get into it and you go through those waves where you start to think you understand things and then you run a few more people through tests and their results don’t make sense to you. But I think over that last year and a half or so that we’ve been using them, definitely have actually started to understand more.
And I think a big piece of that is just understanding how different variables tie in with one another. So I think it’s important to start with your main measures that you care about, that you think just represent general athleticism for everybody, and really start to understand those. So one we’re using is jump height, RSI modified. But then from there, even to understand that is using things like countermovement depth and the contraction time or time to take off to bring context to stuff. So I think that’s the big piece, is just adding more and more context as time goes on and as you start to understand things while still remembering to try to keep it simple and going back to the main measures that I do understand.
And where we’ve really progressed, I would say, is learning how to pick the extra measures that matter for the specific athlete in front of us. So when we’re doing a return to play type scenario, maybe somebody’s getting handed off to us or we’re in that transition phase from PT, asymmetries become much more important for those people. So understanding asymmetries, understanding how to program for asymmetries within different phases of the jump and that sphere of things. Whereas, say, for a baseball hitter who just wants to increase their exit velocity, we have different measures we’ll look at for those. So we’ve been able to progress by understanding a wider number of measures and how they apply to the different populations that we deal with.
And then the programming, I mean, there’s all sorts of different changes we’ve made. Most of it’s still the same. Training is complicated, but at the same time, keeping it simple works for most people, but understanding how to make the little tweaks more accurately to work on those measures that we’ve identified are important for the person in front of us.
So if it’s a rehab case and we have big asymmetries, leaning heavily on single-leg stuff and jump variations that are going to force them to use the leg that they’re not comfortable using, and maybe at different speeds depending on where we see the asymmetries throughout. Or if we are just trying to improve athletic performance and we see that there’s somebody who’s struggling within a certain phase of their jump and that’s what’s limiting, so they struggle eccentrically, then within strength training, we can kind of more accurately apply heavy eccentrics for them, something we’ve always used, but now we have a better reason to use it. And then loaded jumps, things that force them to throw on the brakes as well as quick eccentrics.
But basically, as we’ve understood those measures more and how they relate to one another and how people can be good or bad jumpers for different reasons, it’s just finding the exercise that targets whichever measure it is that they’re lacking and that we’ve identified we want to work on.
Yeah, that’s great. And I had to reiterate what Jonah said here too, is that the data we’re getting with force plates, it’s not dramatically changing everything we do. On one front, I think it’s actually giving us a little bit more information that what we do works. But more importantly, it’s more about finding that small variable.
When we’re talking about elite level athletes and we’re talking about people that are either trying to get back or trying to take it to the next level, we’re talking about getting them 1% better sometimes. So the more data and the more streamlined focus you can be on one thing, I think, the better. And I think that’s one thing is don’t expect anything to be crazy. It’s just more, what can we do to really streamline this? Diwe, what do you think, from your perspective? What do you think about what we’ve seen with the force plate data and the progressions?
Yeah. I think it’s definitely been very valuable. I want to reiterate something that Jonah said that I think is the biggest thing to keep in mind. You really do have to do a good job of simplifying what can be really complex. I know when we first started, we were thinking about all these different tests that we would do, all these different measures that we’d look at, when in reality there’s probably a few really good tests that can give us a lot of insight that helps us bucket athletes in certain categories and then figure out where their deficits may lie. And then there’s certain metrics within those specific tests that are going to help us gain more insight into their output, their strategy, maybe even fatigue markers like countermovement depth, duration going to be the marker for fatigue, and stuff like that.
So what we’ve really done is we’ve relied heavily on just a countermovement jump as our main test where we get a pretty good idea of overall output, some fatigue measures, some asymmetry measures, and a good bit of insight into how we can improve someone’s force production, their velocity, eccentrically and concentrically, to be able to get greater outcomes.
And then the other tests that we’ve used that maybe give us slightly different information is our squat jump, which when we compare the squat jump to the countermovement jump, we get a little bit more of the eccentric utilization ratio. We see if someone’s good at using their stretch-shortening cycle or not. And then we use the hop test to calculate the RSI, which gives us a little bit more insight into their fast stretch-shortening cycles. This is going to be a little bit more relevant to, let’s say, your top end sprinting speeds and things of that nature. And then our last test is using an isometric mid-thigh pull to figure out peak force and rate of force development.
This has, again, like Jonah said, it’s kind of confirmed a lot of what we do works, but it does give us insight as far as where within these tests are the weaknesses to the athletes and maybe even what’s their superpower, what are they really good at? Let’s not lose sight of that. Let’s say, if their RSI’s incredible and they’re really made to be really elastic and bouncy and top end sprinting might be their strengths, let’s make sure that we keep hammering that stuff so we’re helping them realize their superpowers even more.
But then they might be not very good at producing this concentric force and we do need to fill that weakness a little bit. So we’re going to have periods of time where we’re filling those weaknesses in our training, let’s say over the off-season, and then as they’re getting closer to competition season, we want them to look organic to them and what makes them a good athlete.
So again, it’s more so just creating a little bit more context for us as far as what we change in our programming, how we approach our periodization from an early off-season, getting someone ready for preseason, and jumping into end season.
And then like Jonah said, if we have someone that’s on the rehab and performance spectrum, maybe we have some slightly different measures that help us stay on track with what’s really the low-hanging fruit and not getting too carried away with, “All right, let’s just get someone really, really strong.” What does strong mean? Do we need more unilateral strength because they have a way bigger deficit than we realized in the past when we didn’t have ways to measure this stuff?
So I think information is where we’ve gotten a lot. So it’s hard to answer, “Here’s the best protocol” because we’re still learning this stuff and we’re figuring it out. But yeah, there’s a lot of learning along the way, there’s a lot of good discussions along the way, and we’re lucky to have someone like Jonah who does a lot of research on this stuff or a lot of learning on this stuff, and he dumbs it down for the rest of us to break down the physics and the crazy stuff that happens behind the scenes with all these metrics.
I agree. Having somebody that wants to dig in deep and help give you some shortcuts as to what to look at is very helpful. So if you’re just getting started with force plates, you should definitely consider trying to make somebody the lead at your facility. I think it’ll help.
Why don’t we answer this from one more perspective, maybe from the PT perspective here. So that’s sports performance, but we’re using the force plates in our return from rehab, too, to just document some progress and stuff. Anybody want to jump in and kind of talk about their experience with the force plates and showing how we’ve used that to progress? I don’t know, Dave, you want to start with that?
Yeah, I can share mine, just kind of the bridge to Diwesh and Jonah’s work. If you don’t know, Dan’s done a lot with the powerlifters and seeing them squat or deadlift, so I think that’d be good input, too.
But I think there’s really good examples of when using force plates at the right time in serial measurements gives you more information and indication of how far we are along the way. What are we ready for? What are we not ready for?
And on our side, obviously we use a dynamometer pretty early in the PT side of ACLs or whatever. And there’s two reasons it’s good. One is it helps to explain to the patient, “maybe I’m not quite ready for everything just yet,” because a lot of times by two months or three months, the pain is minimal. They’re back to knowing life and they really want to do more.
And then I can think of one athlete that Diwesh and I work with who is in college, and then another one that Jonah and I had who was a high school, really high-level female post-ACL for lacrosse. And both of them, when we got to that mark of measuring their knee extension and hamstringing torque, they’re both like, “Whoa, I have a 60% quad deficit.” And so then you’re like, “Okay, we have more work to do. We have to really get things going.” But then you get to a point where four months, they can jump, they can run, and a lot of these athletes are chomping at the bit to do more. They want to play, they want to go.
And then when you can give another layer of testing on a force plate when they jump for countermovement, squat, jump, RSI, and maybe their quad strength is better, but their 30% asymmetrical in their landing force and their single-leg development or rate of force development, it’s another eye-opening moment for them, like, “Oh wait, okay, I still have more work to do even though I don’t hurt.” And those are murky waters in PT when someone’s pain is gone but we know they’re definitely not ready for really explosive power.
So serial measurements are one great way to help communicate between you and the patient and the strength coach about what’s going on, but also they’re really great markers for me to transition someone over to Jonah and over to Diwesh on the strength side because oftentimes, we’re really big on we don’t want to waste your time and your money. If we can get all this in a strength program, you need me for some very specific stuff, but four days a week you can do a really great strength program and speed and agility program, well, let’s just understand where your deficits are, like they said, and understand this through the lens of a biological tissue limitation, like an ACL graft or a meniscus repair or cartilage, not sports performance in general.
And so it’s a good common language for us to have conversations around about like, “Okay, what’s the goal? Where are we going?” And we can look at the same numbers with the same data and then show the patient or share with the client like, “Hey, this is where we’re going for your sport.” So that’s the two biggest use cases that I find myself often sharing.
Great. Thanks, Dave. Dan, I agree with Dave. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too, on this because I know you’ve done this now, I don’t know want to say from…
Yeah, I think Diwe makes fun of me all the time because I love the squat symmetry test. I use it all the time.
Yeah, tell us about your…
And I don’t expand a lot outside of that, although I should do a bit more. But then again, I’m also working with a lot of powerlifters and they’re not doing a lot of jumping in their sport, maybe like a celebration afterwards. That’s about it.
But anyway, I like to look at, let’s say, squat symmetry. And I think oftentimes you get a lot of good information from these. I work with a lot of patients that have FAI or labral pathology, and oftentimes they’re doing all sorts of weird twisting at the bottom of their squat trying to maybe avoid whatever’s provocative or painful. And it’s really interesting because you can see how much force someone’s producing with one side versus the other if there is any sort of weight shift. Sometimes it doesn’t occur on the way down. Sometimes it’s on the way back up. You can see exactly where that is. And then for me, it oftentimes will drive the interventions that I use.
So I recently had another patient with a lumbar radiculopathy. We noticed a lot of weakness on one side, and it was certainly reflected in certain parts of their squat and deadlift. And I could say, “All right, we need to work your strength at the bottom of your deadlift because clearly this is where the compensation is. We can pick an exercise that’s very specific to getting that better.” So like a kickstand Romanian deadlift where we’re really driving from the floor because we know that’s where the weakness is. So I think it’s really nice because it helps with my evaluation, kind of rules in our thinking, and then you can also see if there are limitations of where they lie.
The last thing I will say, which is kind of funny, is that people, even with a wonky hip shift where their hips are really twisted and one knee’s pointing one direction, one’s pointing the other, sometimes the force plate data looks like it’s symmetrical, but if you clearly look in the mirror, they’ve just gotten really good at twisting and pushing symmetrically between legs.
So I always use it in combination with a mirror just so we get that same biofeedback and you still need the coach’s eye. It’s been very eye opening to me to see like, “Oh, wow, that actually looks pretty symmetrical by the data, but visually, it’s not even close.” So I think it’s just a player and it helps out a lot, but it’s not perfect. It doesn’t give you all the information that maybe you want.
Yeah, I mean, but I think that’s great insight though that not a lot of people realize. The force plates aren’t just for giving you data too, but it’s also helping people see different things, like you mentioned. So awesome.
Kevin, did you have something that you wanted to add?
Yeah, I was just going to say that it’s definitely helped me with clinical decision making as well, especially towards the end of rehab for, say, an ACL or another lower extremity injury like that, where we can test countermovement jump or squat jump and just look at the difference side to side in terms of if they’re putting the brakes on and they’re completely shifting to the uninvolved side. It just helps me program the right exercises.
So maybe we’re doing a slow tempo, single-leg exercise as well as continuing to do double-leg jumps, single-leg jumps, and just trying to hone in on specific exercises to close the gaps that the force plates are telling us that we have. So it’s been helpful for decision making and kind of like Dan said, too, because the coach’s eye still is very important, but it can help bridge the gap between where they are and then you just retest and you know if the interventions you’re doing are closing the gaps that you want to close.
I think it’s very…
Which is helpful for both you and them, right?
Right. I was going to say, I think it’s very beneficial for me, for a patient or a client, to see and hear that because a lot of times they think they’re symmetrical or they know they’re shifting, but they don’t know when they’re shifting. And so I use it a lot after my ACLS with testing four or five months out of surgery and we’re already doing some strength testing. They know they have a deficit, but it can really, for me, help me to program and see, are they always shifting to the uninvolved side during the concentric or the eccentric portion of the squat or the jump?
Or are they going back and forth? If they’re just going back and forth and they’re kind of shifting onto the good and bad side, and they maybe are biasing both, but each rep is a little different to me, that’s a good thing. That’s like if they’re 5 or 8 or 10% shifting, but they’re doing it, each rep is kind of a manipulation of that, that means they trust that leg and their body’s just adjusting to that particular jump.
So I use them all the time. I use them serially on people from, say, maybe four or five months out of surgery up until return to play. So squat jumps, countermovement jumps. And I’m looking at that concentric data, I’m looking at the braking data, I’m looking at the eccentric data, and I’m looking at the symmetry and when the symmetry is occurring and how big of a symmetry it is and how often it’s occurring. And if they’re just shifting back and forth, then that’s a good sign, in my eyes.
Awesome. Yeah. Thanks, Len. So great question, Tom. I think we’re going to continue to grow and learn more and more as we just get more reps and time under our belt. But I think just even the way we’ve been applying it at our practice at Champion for sports performance and for our rehabs, our return to sports, has been pretty dramatic and effective for helping us and helping the person understand where they’re at. So, great episode. Really appreciate everybody’s insight on that.
If you have a question like Tom, head to mikereinhold.com, click on that podcast link and you can fill out the form to ask us a question, and we’ll keep answering as long as we keep getting the questions. But anyway, thank you so much. See you on the next episode.