Thursday 23rd May 2019

Strive Tech Compression Shorts Monitor Internal, External Training Load

Strive Tech Compression Shorts Monitor Internal, External Training Load

Strive Tech Compression Shorts Monitor Internal, External Training Load
Strive Tech monitors internal and external training load in compression shorts. (Courtesy of Strive Tech)

A new pair of compression shorts made by Strive Tech will measure an athlete’s internal and external training loads. The company’s founder learned his lesson on the balance between performance and fatigue the hard way.

While playing for KK Lovćen in the first division of Montenegro’s pro basketball league in the early 2000s, Nikola Mrvaljevic fashioned his game after “Bruce Bowen, Tony Allen, Shane Battier—lockdown guys,” he said. “I could’t shoot well, but I figured I could at least stop the other guy.”

His coaches, like many in the sport worldwide, mandated that players run suicide sprints if they couldn’t string together a few made baskets or free throws at the end of practice. That meant Mrvaljevic ran a lot. Each time he missed, he ran, and each time he ran, he pulled up for his next attempt tired.

“I wish they knew how much I was falling apart right [then],” he said. “They wouldn’t be punishing me further. They are conditioning me, but they are also decreasing my chances of hitting the next shot.”

Mrvaljevic’s understanding of fatigue and load monitoring crystallized then. After subsequently completing biomedical and electrical engineering degrees, Mrvaljevic would apply his on-court lessons and his accrued expertise of human monitoring devices.

Just like competitors such as Catapult or STATSports, Strive Tech tracks an athlete’s movement using GPS, accelerometers, and gyroscopes, although the tracking module is located on the waist instead of the upper body. But electrodes in the shorts can also track heart rate through the femoral artery and monitor muscle function with ECG and EMG technology. Mrvaljevic is complimentary of the pioneering industry leaders and wanted to build off their work by coupling motion tracking with physiological monitoring. 

“Where I realized an opportunity is, because of my biomedical engineering study, I wanted to look more at the internal load,” he said. “Understanding how much the athlete is achieving throughout the practice via accelerations, speed, distance and those are all great, but what is happening on the inside? Fundamentally, what’s your engine doing? How many miles per gallon are you spending? What is the check engine light?”

Even with electrodes sewn into them, the shorts remain machine washable and drier friendly. The end result is a Bluetooth-enabled wearable that transmits data on an athlete’s muscles, heart, and motion—a series of assessments not typically found in one garment.

“Each independently adds value,” Mrvaljevic said, adding: “However, the power comes when you can start correlating that data.”

A review of Strive’s technology is ongoing under the supervision of an independent auditor. A handful of SEC schools began using the product about two months ago. Mrvaljevic said his company is in the process of deploying to seven NFL teams, one NBA team, and another six Power 5 conference colleges.

One of the universities already using Strive is Tennessee. Its athletic department has its own GPS analyst in the strength and conditioning department, Brad Roll, a 20-year NFL coaching veteran who is a member of the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. He emphasized two important features of Strive Tech: its comprehensive real-time data inputs and its ease of use for players and coaches.

“Looking at all of this live, it’s a pretty unique concept,” said Roll, who is currently using Strive with UT athletes in men’s and women’s tennis and softball. “Watching it live is the only way you can get a full evaluation and understanding of the session but also of the player.”

An inside view of shorts outfitted with Strive technology. (Courtesy of Strive Tech)

Roll said that the use of Bluetooth means coaches don’t need to spend time docking the devices and uploading data manually. That the wearable is embedded on a pair of shorts makes it universal—everyone wears shorts, even in hot Tennessee summers.

“Player-friendly is the key,” Roll said, “and making sure that the player has a garment on that is not restricting their movement and they have no idea that they’re actually being tracked.”

Such features are the result of significant market research. Mrvaljevic cold-emailed 50 coaches to solicit feedback about the most meaningful metrics, the best workflow, and the necessary features to encourage player compliance. That resulted in 42 conversations with advice and insights on modern training.

The original idea for the product dates to 2006 when Mrvaljevic took a medical devices course taught by Ying Sun at the University of Rhode Island. The research and development behind Strive Tech started in January 2016 and a prototype of the first product, a compression shirt, was ready by that October. The shirt’s electrodes measured the activity of several upper-body muscles, including the biceps were among the muscles being monitored. One SEC coach quipped, “This is really cool, but let me ask you this, Nikola—am I preparing athletes for spring break or to perform?”

The consistent refrain from coaches was that shorts were more useful, largely because most athletic movements derive from lower-half muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. So Strive repurposed its technology and, by June 2017, had converted the wearable into waterproof shorts.

“We want to make sure that coaches love the data, players love the comfort, and equipment managers love the simplicity,” Mrvaljevic said.

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