⭐ ⌚ Upside: Force Assessment (Force Plates, Smart Insoles..) Solutions Ecosystem Analysis: Key Vendors, Trends & Recommendations to Teams
Force assessment tools have become a key solutions for teams to help them prevent injuries and improve performance of players over the years. Pro teams are now using force assessment devices in various shapes and forms (force plates, smart insoles with force sensors, etc.). Similar to GPS, AMS or HR systems, pro teams and leagues have to pick the right force assessment system that fits their requirements, use cases, budget, and requirements. In this analysis we will discuss the latest research focusing on force assessment tools, the current and future market trends, the M&A trends, the force assessment vendor ecosystems, and the key force assessment vendors. We will also provide recommendations to pro teams looking to adopt a force assessment solution.
What are Force Platforms or Force Plates?
Force platforms or force plates are measuring instruments that measure the ground reaction forces generated by a body standing on or moving across them, to quantify balance, gait and other parameters of biomechanics. Most common areas of application are medicine and sports.
From the outside, a force plate (or platform) looks like a simple rectangular pedestal, often joined to other platforms to form an entire floor. However, each force plate contains several sensors for detecting the moment of a force.
Therefore, in order to understand what a force plate is, it is first necessary to define what the moment of a force is. It consists of any cause capable of modifying the state of inertia or motion of a body, and manifests itself in the reciprocal interaction of two or more bodies.
Three elements are needed to describe an applied force: 1) point of application; 2) intensity (or module or size); 3) direction. Two forces applied to the same point can be summarized in a single force, called the resultant force; it too falls under the spectrum of what a force platform can analyze, which detects it together with other parameters.
In summation, a force plate is an instrument that allows to detect and measure the forces that are produced during physical exercise, in order to optimize the athletic gesture and to "ground" all the power of an athlete, even in relation to a project of rehabilitation or recovery after injury.
More advanced types of force platforms also allow the recording of data relating to the pressure center, which provide fundamental information for the detection of postural dysfunctions in an inertial state or in motion.
Force Plates can Help Measure the Postural Stability, the Explosive Force, the Power, the Reaction Force from the Ground.
A force plate allows to evaluate the postural stability, the explosive force, the power, the reaction force from the ground. These data can later be used for the study of sports postures and movements, for diagnostics and rehabilitation.
The force plate measures direction, strength, reactive muscle activation time and other parameters and forces produced during specific movements of a sporting activity, like walking, running or jumping. In essence, it analyses motor patterns, applying kinematics to dynamics.
Measurements of a force plate can be studied alone or combined with other data, such as limb kinematics, to determine the principles of locomotion. If an organism makes a standing jump from a force plate, the data from the force plate alone is sufficient to calculate acceleration, jump mechanics, power output, jump angle and jump distance using basic physics. Simultaneous video measurements of the angles of the leg joints and the force plate output can allow the determination of torque, work and power in each limb, using a method called reverse dynamics.
Force Plates are Primarily Used to Prevent Injuries and Improve Performance
The two main directions of use of the platform are those of prevention and performance. Postural stability, jumping and landing are the main areas of preventive investigation, in order to avoid injuries due to posture and the way in which certain movements are made. As far as performance measurement is concerned, on the other hand, the exercises on the force plate involve various types of jumping and extension, to measure parameters such as power and height of the jump, or more basic locomotion movements, such as sprints, walks or agility drills.
Latest Research Using Force Plates: Defining Force Plate Metrics
There are several studies on force plates that have been published in the past few years. One of them is a study entitled “Applying Force Plate Technology to Inform Human Performance Programming in Tactical Populations”, published in July 2021.
This study provides general examples of important metrics to monitor and training recommendations based on changes to these force-time metrics, followed by specific examples in three case studies. According to this study, the most important step in preparation for using force plate data to inform training program prescriptions is identifying the database management system that will store the raw data, conduct calculations, and build visualizations. It is common for high frequency (1000 Hz) force plate systems to provide a wealth of meaningful data from the force-time curve, resulting in upwards of 100+ calculated variables. This, understandably so, may look overwhelming at first sight, but a properly designed (and commercially available) data management system provides the ability to make this vast data easily accessible, visualizable, and actionable, as well as overlay additional important contextual data such as training load. The Table 1 below displays a dashboard example of an executive summary of CMJ testing utilizing Fusion Sport Smartabase Athlete Management System (AMS). In the absence of a data management tool (such as an AMS), the data becomes very cumbersome to manage and can lead to a decreased likelihood of analyzing historical trends and managing large datasets.
Picures: Table 1
The Fusion Sport Smartabase dashboard above built to display comparisons of individuals to their average historical values (identifying those increasing, maintaining, and decreasing in power production capabilities by utilizing jump height Z-scores based on intra-individual variation), others within the group (leaderboard comparisons to the group average), and as a percentage of their all-time personal best record (100% highlighted in green would indicate a personal record while red indicates very low performances compared to historical records). Highlighting groups of individuals with red flag alerts from decreased performances can be used to easily identify and make appropriate adjustments to individual training regimens. This data and names have been synthetically generated for visual purposes.
The table below illustrates and defines the various Force Plate metrics:
Picture: Definitions of Variables of Emphasis in the force-time curve.
Testing to Monitor Neuromuscular Fatigue and Detraining
More frequent or “micro-level” monitoring via bi-weekly, weekly, or intra weekly assessments help to identify neuromuscular fatigue more quickly via decrements in force-generating capacities . When trying to determine the ideal frequency for testing, there are several factors to consider, such as throughput and equipment limitations. Most importantly is the potential for test fatigue due to the implementation of force plate assessments at a high frequency. As mentioned earlier and described in greater detail elsewhere , maximal effort jump attempts are fundamental to the validity and reliability of force plate tests. Consequently, it is left to the practitioners to determine whether intra-weekly or weekly (sometimes even bi-weekly) testing would become too monotonous for their population. In these instances, it is recommended that test frequency is extended to bi-weekly or monthly. Proper use of this more immediate feedback allows appropriate, timely adjustments to training programs from unexpected responses caused by the unpredictable nature of occupational demands.
The fluctuations in weekly training volume and intensity may lead to decreased or maintained jump performances depending on the individual. Conceptually, micro and meso-level monitoring feed into the “macro-level” training program by providing a robust description of long-term adaptive alterations, creating the roadmap for the course taken to reach the annual training adaptation. Thus, it is helpful for practitioners to have a training prescription in which predetermined expectations are deployed, which allows reflection and interpretation based upon comparing desired/anticipated changes vs. actual outcomes. Then, eliciting functional overreaching via minimal neuromuscular fatigue to elicit training adaptations and prepare for high stressors [14,19] would not be an alarm for negative training responses, but rather an expected decrease that should be followed by an eventual increase in performance (adaptation). Nonetheless, if data lead a practitioner to be concerned, programmatic alterations (e.g., lower training volume and/or training intensity and increased recovery modalities) may then be implemented to guide future training towards a more desirable long-term adaptation, all of which is directed by objective, reliable, and actionable data. Collectively, micro-level monitoring can help to identify performance reductions from detraining  or neuromuscular fatigue (i.e., overreaching/overtraining)  to ensure individuals take necessary steps (e.g., retrain or recover) to regain occupational physical readiness.
Having appropriate plans of action for data management, as previously discussed, is particularly important for monitoring frequent assessments to provide immediate feedback. Some force plate software have embedded cloud-based data management systems, which allow immediate comparisons to previous records. These databases also may be connected to other AMS (e.g., Fusion Sport Smartabase, Kinduct, Kitman Labs, RockDaisy, Edge10) through application program interfaces (API), which allow easy integration of force-plate data into the holistic monitoring system. Further advantages for AMS allow for additional data to be seamlessly connected for more context, such as training load from global positioning systems (GPS) and heart rate monitoring systems, sleep tracking, subjective wellness, to name a few. Regardless of whether force-plate data are merged with other objective and subjective health and performance metrics, “red flags” can be set to alert the practitioner when an individual has substantial performance decrements.
These alerts suggest the individual may require additional training/recovery adjustments to their training cycle, particularly if the group generally displays stable or improved responses. Within the AMS, general recommendations are made based on specific outcomes for each metric. An example is displayed in Table 2, where a decrease in specific force-time metrics coincides with general training recommendations. These recommendations are simply a guide, as responses to outcomes may overlap and context from the individual’s or group’s training need to be considered (i.e., was the testing conducted immediately following an intensive bout of training). Further, it is also worth considering that although the training recommendations for counteracting detraining or below group average performances do not always focus solely on strength and conditioning alterations, rather each metric may be altered from neuromuscular fatigue that require recovery modality implementations rather than training adjustments. For these reasons, holistic data sets comprise not only force plate data but other health and performance constructs to generate a more complete and informative profile.
Table 2: Example training recommendations based on decreased performances from countermovement jump force-time metrics. Note, these are general recommendations that may overlap across variables and still require the expertise of the strength and conditioning specialist to align these responses to the context of any scenario.
The Force Plate Market Ecosystem: From Force Plate Vendors to Smart Insole Companies:
The force plate market is comprised of the following subsegments:
Force plate vendors: Typically those include companies manufacturing HRV monitoring systems. It includes HRV vendors such as Vald Performance Pty, BTS, Hawkin Dynamics, or Innervations, just to name a few.
Smart insole vendors: This category includes smart insole vendors with force sensing capabilities such as Plantiga and SALTED.
Pressure sensor vendors: This category includes vendors such as KISTLER, Tekscan.
Source: Upside global, Confidential 2022
Key Force Plate and Smart Insole Vendors
1.Vald Performance Pty:
HQ: Brisbane, Queensland (Australia)
Amount money raised: TBD
Investors: VALD has acquired ForceDecks on Aug 14, 2019.
Total employees: 24
Customers / partners: 1,000+ of the world’s most elite sporting teams, universities and defence departments (Premier League, MLS, NFL, NBA..)
Company/product description: VALD Performance provides innovative human-measurement technology to over 1,000 of the world’s most elite sporting teams, universities and defence departments. Driven by a multidisciplinary team of sports scientists, researchers, clinicians, designers, developers, and engineers, VALD systems can be used across various disciplines from strength and conditioning to medical and rehabilitation, offering unparalleled insight into musculoskeletal and neural performance. The VALD Suite includes ForceDecks Dual Force Plate System, NordBord Hamstring Testing System, ForceFrame Strength Testing System, AirBands Blood Flow Restriction Cuffs, HumanTrak Movement Analysis System, SmartSpeed Timing Gate System, SmartJump Portable Jump Mat and TeleHab Exercise Prescription App.
Here is a video illustration how Vald’s force plate technology works:
Video: Vald’s force plates
Picture: Vald’s force plates
Picture: Vald’s NordBord app
HQ: Garbagnate Milanese, MI (USA)
Amount of money raised: TBD
Total employees: 42
Customers / partners: CONI, UMB, Italian Football Federation (FIGC), etc.
Company/product description: They develop innovative technologies for the comprehension of human body movement, since 1986. Motion analysis systems used for medical practice, sport performance and researches in biomechanics, biometry, diagnostics and physical sports sciences. Their mission is to develop efficient and effective clinical solutions based on innovative technologies to create well-being.
Here is a video illustrating BTS’ solutions:
Here is a picture of BTS’ force plate:
Picture: BTS’ force plate
Picture: BTS’ app
HQ: Westbrook, ME (USA)
Amount money raised: $1.5M
Total employees: 13
Customers / partners: Chelsea FC (Premier League), Kentucky Basketball (NCAA), just to name a few.
Company/product description: Hawkin Dynamics designs and builds software and hardware for team-testing and sport scientists. Their software is designed for maximum usability - with a logical workflow and utilitarian presentation of data over time.
Here is a video illustrating their force plates:
Here is a picture of the Hawkin Dynamics’ dashboard and app:
Picture: Hawkin Dynamics’ dashboard and app:
HQ: West Perth (Australia)
Amount money raised: XX
Total employees: TBD
Customers / partners: TBD
Company/product description: In 1986 we started with two products: Exercess – software for health and fitness assessment & MemberTrak – software for member management in health and fitness centres. Our initial trading name was Scifit and we operated as a small business until we formed our Australian company Optimal Kinetics Pty Ltd (ABN: 14 079 172 053) in 1997. Innervations became our new trading name in 1999 when the parent company, Optimal Kinetics, moved its operations to the United States. We are a company offering many products and services all with a technology base.
Here is a video illustrating Innervations’ force plate:
Here is a picture of Innervations’ force plates:
Picture: Innervations’ force plate
Picture: Innervations’ dashboard
HQ: Vancouver, Canada
Amount money raised: $3M+
Customers: 5 NBA teams, 2 NFL teams, 4 MLB teams, 1 MLS team, 2 hospitals, 20+ sports medicine and orthopedics clinics, the NHL, USTA, DoD. Plantiga also has a million dollar contract from the Canadian Department of National Defense.
Pricing: $500 per month or $5K per year for a single kit, which can track an unlimited number of players. Or $30 per month per user.
One of the key players in the smart footwear market is Plantiga, which built some insoles embedded with advanced sensors and algorithms to help prevent injuries.
Picture: Plantiga’s smart insole
Plantiga can track a wide variety of metrics such as asymmetry/total load, contact time, flight time, rotational force, landing force, acceleration time, vertical & horizontal force.
Picture: Plantiga’s metrics measured
Using the Plantiga platform, pro teams can flag lower limb asymmetrical loading strategies after injuries like ACL tears, fractures, ankle sprains, hip injuries, soft tissue injuries, lower back/pelvis injuries. They can also create asymmetry norms/baselines to characterize bandwidth of normal function; They can also flag athletes who exit normal bandwidth by player, position, team and sport.
Picture: Plantiga’s dashboard
As shown in the picture below, Plantiga can also track recovery timeline progression, provide injury & reinjury risk warnings. It can also help minimize injury impact, recognize injuries early one, and optimize players’ health.
Picture: Plantiga’s analytics platform
Plantiga can also track the rehabilitation journey, monitor progress to drive improvement, and tailor recovery goals based on objective feedback.
Picture: Plantiga’s rehabilitation platform
Here is a picture below of the Plantiga consumer app available with a $30 monthly membership.
Picture: Plantiga’s app
6.Salted (Formerly IOFIT)
HQ: Gangnam-Gu, Seoul (South Korea)
Amount money raised: Undisclosed
Pricing: $139- $229. Available on Amazon for $139 via Amazon Prime.
When it comes to smart insoles, Salted is another key player in the market. Founded in 2015, Korean startup Salted Venture has taken in an undisclosed amount in funding so far to develop Smart insoles, which can analyze and correct the golf swing of its user. Here is a quick review of the smart insoles in the video below:
After charging for two hours, you’ll connect the insoles to your device via Bluetooth. The first time you connect them, it takes a couple minutes because there’s a calibration process. After that, it takes just a few seconds, assuming everything works smoothly. As with any wireless technology, there will be times when you need to cycle the power to get things on track.
There are two primary modes in the app: Video Analysis and Drill Practice. In Video Analysis, you can film your swing and then watch the swing alongside your pressure data, which can be displayed a few different ways. I like this mode a lot because it breaks down that “feel vs. real” barrier. The golf swing happens so fast and has so many moving parts that it’s difficult to know for certain where your pressure is at different points in the swing. With SALTED, you can know for sure. The app also provides professional swings you can compare yourself to.
They also claim to be as effective as a golf coach because of the real-time feedback
Picture: Salted app
It is also important to notice that those smart insoles can be customizable which is important for basketball or soccer players.
They are also waterproof and sweatproof.
Recommendations to teams and leagues looking to adopt a force assessment solution
Here are some recommendations for teams or leagues looking to adopt a force assessment solution:
Ask yourself some key questions and assess your ideal game style: Teams need to ask themselves some key questions (squad goals, requirements in terms of quality/accuracy, types of data needed, monthly or annual budget) before adopting a force assessment solution. Teams also need to find out if athletes would be willing to use the force assessment solution depending on the form factor (force plate, smart insole with force/pressure sensor).
Adopt a force assessment solution that fits your actual needs: It is critical for teams to pick a force assessment solution to meet their needs. If a force assessment solution requires the staff members to dedicate too many hours it may not be the right fit for the team.
Make sure to mix the force data with other data points to get a better picture of the athletes’ health: As we mentioned earlier, it is critical for teams to aggregate their force assessment solution data and mix it with other types of data (e.g. 3D motion capture). By doing so, it will give the coach a better sense of the health of his/her players.
Adopt a data visualization software in order to better visualize the force assessment solution data: Sometimes force assessment solution vendors do not offer good data visualization software as part of their offering. This is why it is important for teams to adopt data visualization tools provided by companies such as Rock Daisy, Soccer System Pro, Kitman Labs, Kinduct, Fusion Sport, or other AMS platforms, in order to help them better visualize the data.
Adopt a force assessment solution that fits into your workflow: This is probably one of the most important points. Whatever force assessment solution a team decides to adopt the force assessment solution (force plate, smart insoles..) needs to fit into the team’s workflow, meaning that it should not disrupt the routine of the athletic staff, players and make them less productive. Those force assessment solutions should be easy to use, intuitive, and easy for the players to use. Overall, if a force assessment solution does not meet those criteria it is probably not a good fit for a team.
Make sure to have staff members (HRV/HR analysts, sports scientists) that can manage your force assessment solution on a weekly basis: Teams also need to have a dedicated person on staff responsible for the force assessment solution. In some cases an analyst would be required to analyze the data if the force assessment solution does not provide good insights.
Focus on force assessment solution vendors with great customer service: This is another key factor when buying a force assessment solution. It is important for the team to adopt a system with great customer service. Some vendors provide staff members who can go on the customer’s site in order to assist teams with any problems. Some vendors even have the ability to build custom data to teams. These are the type of vendors that teams need to work with when adopting a force assessment solution.
Focus on force assessment solution vendors with remote monitoring: In the pandemic world that we are living in, it is also important for teams to work with force assessment solution vendors who can provide remote monitoring, meaning the ability for coaches to remotely monitor their players.
Bottom line: Force assessment solutions have become a key part of athletes’ training and recovery. The adoption of such solutions has grown over the years especially in sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball. Now while force plates have become the main form factor we are seeing the emerging of new form factors such as smart insoles with pressure/force sensors. These new products provide more options to teams and enable new use cases but they need to be evaluated carefully as there are pros and cons for such solutions. Moving forward we expect more teams to use force assessment solutions in association with other systems (3D motion capture) in order to better understand the health and recovery of athletes.
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