How to Use Force Plates at the High School Level

Hawkin Force Plates High School

In the high school space, coaches regularly debate the need to keep things simple in training our student-athletes. This is a concept I definitely support but with a caveat: I believe in keeping things simple for the athlete but not limiting the tools or protocols I use to prepare.

From the coaching side, the way I approach programming, technology use, professional development, and other parts of my career does not need to be simple—those just need to be actionable with realistic means. In my current role, we are blessed to have access to a large variety of performance technology. In fact, our student-athletes have the opportunity to use so much that we take week-long “technology breaks” a few times a year just to de-load. Consequently, I replace the word “simple” with “actionable” when it comes to my use of technology and data collection.

Over the last decade, I have tested and used more technology than I could possibly list: some never made it to the floor with our student-athletes; some became a daily staple. During that time, the one technology piece that did not appear simple for our athletes or me was force plates.

  • Did we need that much information?
  • How difficult would the process of set-up and collection be?
  • Would we be swimming in so much data that taking action on it would be impossible?

Luckily for our program, I had the opportunity to get answers to those questions and more. Force plates were not only extremely simple and intuitive to use for all involved, but they also provided an insight that proved to be a force multiplier for our data collection and action protocols.

Force plates are not only extremely simple and intuitive to use, but they also provide an insight that proved to be a force multiplier for our data collection & action protocols, says @MarkHoover71. Click To Tweet

Missteps and Course Corrections with Hawkin Dynamics Force Plates

Early last spring, I acquired a set of custom-made Hawkin Dynamics (HD) force plates, along with a Zeus isometric rig. Unpacking the equipment, I still had questions about the feasibility of using force plates in a high school setting. As with much of the current technology for athletic development, you have to be cautious about falling into the trap of data overload. In fact, this proved to be my initial misstep when getting started with the force plates.

Hawkin’s ease of use had me up and running at full speed in a day—to my personal detriment, unfortunately. That extreme ease of use and expansive list of tests and metrics at my fingertips really led to self-inflicted data overload syndrome. My first week or so was spent trying out every cool test I’d seen on social media. I spent hours looking at every possible metric for our athletes: unilateral braking force percentage, braking force RFD, all possible types of left versus right deficiencies…it was all fascinating and got my mind running over possibilities. I found myself wading so deep through the weeds of potential uses that I lost sight of my goal: collecting actionable data to guide training.

At that point, I reached out and had conversations with several people who had more extensive backgrounds training with force plates. I needed guidance to keep myself in check. I discovered that I needed to step out of the weeds and develop a plan that would allow me to unleash actionable metrics that could be collected organically within the normal context of a training session.

Best Advice: “First Inventory What You Do”

The advice I received was to perform an inventory of our training templates. We needed to pinpoint:

  1. Where the use of force plates fit.
  2. How often they could be utilized.
  3. Exactly what tests would give us the actionable information we sought.

What could we realistically use in our setting and time frame? We have 800 square feet, five power racks, a room full of teenagers, and about 35 minutes to get the job done. The answer was in a protocol we had been using already, the performance circuit.

Force Plates in Performance Circuits

Recently, I wrote an article about using performance circuits (inspired by Cal Dietz) and how that protocol solved many of the issues we faced at Metrolina Christian Academy. The same solution helped us fit the use of force plates into our training program.

Considering we had three days a week to train and the time and space limitations I previously described, it became apparent that we would be limited to no more than three tests per week (one per training session). The flow of the session and time restrictions we faced would not allow us to do multiple tests in a day (as I had originally intended). So, I narrowed it down to:

  1. Isometric mid-thigh pull. We chose IMTP (despite a learning curve of proper technique) because we knew we wanted one test that would give us a look into peak force outputs. I wanted a true test of the strength levels of our athletes.
  2. Step-off altitude drop with an immediate rebound jump (from a 24-inch box). The drop jump is important because I wanted to measure peak braking forces with an immediate re-acceleration. We wanted a way to look at deceleration abilities, but also if we were improving the power and speed that we were able to bounce from that sudden landing.
  3. Three-rep countermovement pogo jump with hands on hips. The countermovement jump would give us a Reactive Strength Index metric to measure our in-season fatigue, among other things.

I sat down and selected seven basic metrics from those three tests that I felt would give me insight into how athletes were adapting to the stress of our training. Our final protocol looked like this:

  • IMTP: max peak force and time to max peak force.
  • DJ: max peak braking force, max jump height, and mean propulsive force.
  • CMJ: average modified RSI and body weight.

For more on the difference between RSI and mRSI or any metrics/tests available from Hawkin Dynamics, please look here.

Within 2 weeks of beginning these protocols, the need for a coach to help the athletes use the technology was eliminated—the HD app is extremely user-friendly, and the athletes flew through the reps. Click To Tweet

Here is an example of our in-season performance circuits, which we used with our varsity football athletes this season. We programmed anywhere from three to five rounds of these circuits depending on in-season variables. Regardless, we only prescribed two sets of force plate testing. Within two weeks of beginning these protocols, the need for a coach to help the athletes use the technology was eliminated—the HD app is extremely user-friendly, and the athletes flew through the reps.

In the end, the force plates became the easiest and smoothest technology we had available at our disposal, surprisingly even faster than ShredMill or EnodePro, which the athletes also picked up in no time. Hawkin is intuitive and fast to use. We were able to teach the athletes the procedures, allowing them to create a student-athlete-led data collection process that gave us valuable and actionable information.

Here is an example report from RockDaisy (its API works with HD) that allowed us to review each athlete’s historical data.

Another custom report we used for quick reference in RockDaisy was the Daily Metric Report, which kept up with rolling averages and maxes over a sortable period. It also provided team and positional information with just a click of a tab.

Individualizing and Managing Training with Force Plate Data

Our experience with HD force plates has been smooth and successful. The data proved to be extremely valuable and actionable when it came to planning and monitoring our week-to-week adaptations.

We use Hawkin Dynamics force plates in coordination with our GPS data to give us a multi-layered platform to individualize practice and training plans, says @MarkHoover71. Click To Tweet

We used Hawkin in coordination with our GPS data to give us a multi-layered platform to individualize practice and training plans. We found that when we narrowed the focus of our testing, the data collection was fast, simple, and athlete-driven. Overall, I have discovered that force plates are not just a luxury; they are a practical asset to our athlete’s health and performance plans.

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