Guest Post by Mitch Hauschildt, MA, ATC, CSCS, Founder of Maximum Training Solutions.
Mitch serves as the Prevention, Rehab, and Physical Performance Coordinator at Missouri State University making him the leading expert on staff in the areas of injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Why I Chose Sparta
A couple of years ago, the athletic administration at Missouri State University, where I serve as the rehab and prevention coordinator, came to me with a desire to invest in some sort of technology that would help our athletes stay healthy and perform better, as well as serve as a recruiting tool. Thier only real request was that it be technologically advanced, it served all of our athletes, and it was dedicated to the health of our student athletes.
We began researching a lot of options of systems that were available on the market today. The vast majority of the systems that we found centered around digital camera systems that capture motion and help to analyze movement via their motion sensing technology. It’s amazing how this technology has evolved over the past few years in price and complexity.
The systems that we talked to ranged from a simple 3D camera that was basically adapted from a video game console to detect joint angles and basic movement patterns that were a few hundred dollars, all the way up to very sophisticated systems of 12+ cameras placed in our athletic stadiums that are really only focused on detecting the movement of 1-2 athletes, but breaking them down in ways that I didn’t know existed. These systems are typically over $100,000 to get started with.
Through all of this research, there was 1 technology that continued to stand out to me that we kept revisiting…Sparta Science. Sparta utilizes force plate technology to detect very small changes in weight, force, timing and distribution of these factors.
Their hallmark is their jump scan. This scan looks at a simple vertical jump and breaks it down into 3 distinct phases…Load, Explode and Drive.
The load is the eccentric phase of a jump. It demonstrates an athlete’s ability to “load up” their jump, prior to leaving the ground. It is highly correlated with squatting movements and is necessary to create the force needed to be a good athlete.
The explode phase is basically the amortization phase of the jump, or the ability to go from the load to getting off of the ground. Athletes who have a great explode score are typically very “springy” and rigid. These are the athletes who can jump out of the gym and not very mobile.
The last phase, the drive, is the athlete’s ability to sustain the force for a long period of time. Athletes with a high drive oftentimes are long and lanky and rely in their long levers to generate force. High drive athletes also tend to have greater endurance as well, as a general rule.
All 3 phases are important for being a high quality, resilient athlete. If one or more is very high or very low, the athlete will be at a heightened injury risk. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily want our athletes to be at the 50th percentile in all 3 areas, because that is just an average athlete, but what it does mean is that we need all 3 scores to be within a range of each other (usually within 15 of each other when looking at the T score) to make sure that they are least somewhat balanced with their performance.
When I first saw the jump scan, I was interested for our speed and power sports, but they really hooked me when they showed me 4 years worth of professional baseball data where they had become very good at predicting elbow injuries in pitchers based on their vertical jump profile. I quickly learned that this technology is for all of our athletes.
In this forum, I’m not going to try to break down what the scores tell us any further because there is A LOT to unpack and more than you want to read in a post. But, I do want to explain a few of the reasons that we chose Sparta over the other various systems that are out there and why we continue to love our working relationship with them:
- Sparta gives us information that we can’t get with other systems. I love the camera systems that we looked at and they can give us good information, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure that they can tell us a lot more information that I can’t already see with a keen, trained, experienced eye that is accustomed to watching movement and movement dysfunction. The force plate technology gives us access to information that is unique and can’t be seen with the eye.
- The scanning process is simple. There are several scans that we use as part of the system, but the signature jump scan is very easy and fast to perform. It is a short warmup and 6 vertical jumps. The entire process is about 3-5 minutes and once the athletes are introduced to the system, they can perform it on their own.
- The system is easily accessible. Their cloud based system that stores all of the testing data is accessible from anywhere I can get the internet. So, I can monitor my athletes while on the road and see how they are doing and look for any red flags. Our strength staff, athletic trainers and many of our sport coaches have access to the system and utilize the data on a regular basis.
- Corrections are easy to implement. One problem that people face with injury prevention strategies is implementation of the correctives and how to make the program work, especially in a team setting. Sparta has made the corrections easy to manage and coach. The basic idea is that most major movements can be adapted to fit everyone’s weakness. So, for example, if I want my team to deadlift, one group will do a trap bard deadlift, while another group will do a barbell deadlift and finally a third will perform an RDL. They are all variations of the same movement, but we have the ability to customize their program to fit what they need, but within a group setting that is easy to manage. An awesome testing program doesn’t matter if the correctives aren’t manageable.
- Sparta is very research driven. Many of the other systems were cool in that they could tell me a very specific shoulder (or hip or whatever) angle, but no one has really done the research to tell us what that really means practically. Sparta now has over 1 million scans in their database to draw from and they constantly update us with new information and research. And, if I have a question that they don’t have an answer to, they will find it by looking at their database for trends.
- The jump scan is a snapshot of the nervous system at that moment. As most of you know, I believe that unlocking the nervous system is the key to performance and prevention. Sparta gives us a snapshot into what the nervous system looks like at that moment. This means that Sparta not only tells me what their risk is at that time, it also allows me to track changes over time and look for trends. This allows me to look for over training and risk exposure during different phases of a training cycle or during a season.
- The injury prediction is accurate. While no system is 100% accurate and we are really just looking at overall trends for injury risk, I have been pretty impressed at Sparta’s ability to predict injuries with our athletes. After limited scans over the past 9-10 months with several teams (we are aggressively rolling this out to all of our times right now), I have been impressed with the fact that most of the athletes that end up with a high risk rating according to Sparta end up with an injury of some sort. Some are more significant than others, but the majority of them end up with something.
- The Sparta staff is very helpful and knowledgeable. One of the great things about working with Sparta is that it is an ongoing partnership. They make their staff available whenever we need it and they are very helpful and accommodating. The have become a trusted resource for me with my training and I’m thankful for their expertise.
This is not meant to be an advertisement for Sparta. I have nothing to gain from writing this post, other than to share my thoughts and ideas. I have written this because I like them and what they do and believe that they can help many of you.
There is a cost to the system, of course, and it varies based on the number of athletes that you are testing and your setting. It can be very affordable for most clinics and facilities.