Cutting-edge measurement technology supports athletes as they train for the Olympics

Winterthur, April 2021 – Motion analysis and performance diagnostics are increasingly critical factors in training for the Olympics. The difference between victory and defeat in world-class sports competitions can depend on the slightest imbalances, delays of a few fractions of a second, or minute differences in body tension. Measurement technology from Kistler Biomechanics helps to detect such very small details and allows athletes to adapt their training accordingly.

The Kistler Group manufactures measurement systems that make it possible to measure even the very smallest movements and forces. Installed in force plates or integrated directly in sports equipment, solutions from Kistler provide coaches and athletes with decisive pointers that help them identify hidden potential for optimization.

The perfect sprint depends on the perfect start

The start is the essential factor that enables a sprinter to reach maximum speed as quickly as possible. And in this case, the athletic performance actually starts before the starting shot is fired – as Dominik Jenni, Head of Kistler's Biomechanics Business Unit explains: 'Our measurement systems for sprinters comprise starting blocks equipped with quartz sensors, a distance sensor and a camera. This gives us a precise understanding of force distribution before the start. We can see how hard the athletes push off at the start, how quickly they react to the starting shot, and how they straighten up after the start. These are all parameters that can make the difference between winning and losing in a competition like the Olympics.' 

Faster than ever before: the dive into the water

Unlike sprinters, swimmers attain their fastest speed before the event really starts – just before they plunge into the water. Sprinting and swimming might seem to have little in common at first sight – but here too, Kistler sensors installed in the starting block measure force distribution and reaction speed as the swimmer pushes off to dive into the pool. To ensure that no details are overlooked, the Performance Analysis System for Swimming also deploys five cameras to capture the athlete's movements both above and under the water. They register parameters such as diving angle, diving depth, the timing of the first swimming stroke and even the diameter of the entry hole. The larger the hole, the more water the athlete has to displace when diving: this requires energy and could even cost victory in a critical situation. The system from Kistler assists swimmers and trainers by providing an overall picture of the decisive first seconds in the training routine. 

Focusing on leg power and performance 

There are many other sporting disciplines where Olympians benefit from high-tech solutions to adapt their training optimally to their personal weak points. Force plates are the most frequently used type of measuring equipment: they make it possible to determine an athlete's take-off force and explosive power as well as the power/speed ratio and imbalances between the two legs. The data also allows better assessment of injury risks. If one leg is significantly weaker than the other, for example, this could indicate an injury that has not fully healed. This is why force plates are also used by many sports physiotherapists to assist athletes in post-competition rehabilitation phases. 'Our force plates are used in a varied range of sporting disciplines and other fields. There's hardly any sport where the legs play no part at all,' Dominik Jenni points out. 'But trainers interpret the data in different ways, and they focus their attention on different aspects.' 

Interpreting the data: a matter of experience

With so much technology available, it might be assumed that coaches' experience takes a back seat. But, as Dominik Jenni explains, the opposite is actually true: 'Of course, you no longer have to be an expert on biomechanics to make use of measurement data in professional sport – but even so, it's no simple matter to interpret the data correctly. There are no official databases containing comparative values for sports. After all, no professionals would want to share their measurement results with competitors, because that could reveal the athletes' weak points.' When it comes to recognizing the perfect take-off force, the ideal preloading force in sprinting or the optimum diving depth, coaches mostly rely on their many years of experience. Summing up, Dominik Jenni notes: 'We want more athletes to be able to use our measurement technology for their training, so we're focusing our development work on making our new measurement systems as user-friendly as possible.'