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You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Measure

Just about a week ago I took a few days, packed a couple backpacks full of everything needed to survive in the wilderness, and set off on a backpacking trip deep into the Wallowa Mountain range in Eastern Oregon with my father. For those who have not gone backpacking in the jagged granite monsters full of wildlife, it is hard to accurately describe the bliss of being deep in mother nature, completely unplugged from the rest of society.

While getting away from civilization is something I’d highly recommend from time to time, I would also be remiss if I didn’t share the importance of having the proper footwear. While lugging a 50 lb pack up the mountain I quickly realized that my boots were about a half size too big, which allowed my heel to slide to the back of the boot causing excessive friction and prompting blisters to form. Within about 24 hours of leaving the trailhead, I noticed that the blisters had led me to alter my stride leading to a tight psoas due to lack of ankle dorsiflexion (to not irritate the blisters). This chain reaction took place within about a day. Now because I am often conscious of these types of things I was thinking about it, but most people, including athletes, don’t put much thought into this (I know I never used to). Competitors just make it work – and compensate to get the job done without realizing the change in mechanics.

As is often said in the world of human performance – It all starts at the ground level. If there is an issue at the foot, it will without question cause problems up the chain – rapidly. This is where the value of assessing Ground Reaction Force is priceless. At Sparta, we often get asked by partners how often they should assess athletes and rehab patients. One of the easiest ways to understand how often testing should occur is to know what your data can tell you, and in turn how you can use it.

Testing often shows how individuals are acutely compensating due to poor footwear, injury, or fatigue – all which can alter the mechanics of the individual, and potentially be disastrous. The human body will figure out a way to get where it needs to go, but often times at a cost – and the truth is that we usually don’t understand this until it’s too late. For example, an athlete with tight ankle tape will be forced to hinge instead of flex due to limited ankle dorsiflexion capabilities. This leads to an altered jump strategy – and thus a different risk analysis due to altered movement patterns. As we know, if one joint can’t function in the correct fashion the next joint (up or down) will suffer – and now we have other problems.

More frequent testing is a valuable way to measure both internal and external load, but also performance metrics that show movement strategies through a holistic, yet objective lens. Frequently monitoring individuals in military, sport, fitness and rehab is the best way to see acute meaningful changes in their force profile that may identify risks. Using the countermovement jump to see an individual’s “neuromuscular snapshot” is the best way to stay one step ahead.

Measure – Train – Win – Repeat.