Monday, August 10, 2015

Salming RunLAB Experience

This is part one of a two part post covering the Salming RunLAB experience.  This post focuses on a description of the general experience and what one can expect in this, and presumably similar analysis experiences. The second post focuses on the motion capture technology, the actual biomechanical findings and the proposed changes in form that result from the analysis. This post is on and the second post is will be on

Salming is a sportswear and equipment company based in Gothenburg, Sweden, which was founded by Hockey legend Börje Salming.  Recently, they have branched out from designing and manufacturing gear for sports such as floorball and handball to enter the running market.  In parallel, they have launched two facilities for advanced running form analysis (“RunLABs”), one in Stockholm and one in Gothenburg.
Through Team Wicked Bonkproof teammate Stefan Albinsson’s associations with Salming (and obviously close connections to Sweden :)), fellow Bonkproofers, Carsten Hoever and I were provided the chance to experience what the RunLAB has to offfer.  *(full disclosure:the experience was provided at no charge to both parties).
On June 24th, 2015, Carsten and I showed up to the Salming headquarters and flagship store in Gothenburg right after lunch. The prior week we had used their intuitive web interface to book sequential times so that we could share the experience.  After a brief introduction to the process by Salming Retail Manager, Lhina Hansson, we were sent to the changing room to change into bottoms and shoes with as little reflective material as possible. The idea behind the RunLAB is to provide more insight into one’s running form to improve the economy and ease of running, and for injury prevention. The running form is analyzed through a quite sophisticated motion capture process. Think about how Gollum was created in the Lord of the Rings movies and then you understand the technology behind what is used!
Once I came down from changing, Lhina and her colleagues, Peter Fröberg, a running coach for over 20 years and Sara Holmgren, one of Sweden’s top middle distance runners, proceeded to cover critical points on my body with reflective balls meant to provide markers for key movement points. All other reflective material on my running gear was covered now to take away any false markers. These markers are also the reason why the test needs to be done in shorts or tights, and with bare upper body (or sports bra/tight shirt if you are a woman); it is crucial that the markers reflect the actual motion of the body and not that motion of the garment you are wearing.
Once “marked up”, Peter then explained that I would warm up for about 5 minutes at an easy pace and then they would record three segments of progressively increasing speeds of approximately two minutes in duration. I mounted the sweetest treadmill I have ever run on and proceeded to warm up. The treadmill used was a (insert treadmill details here), which has about 1.5 times the length of a normal treadmill with a shock absorbing deck. The lab itself is located right in the centre of the flagship retail store in front of the cash registers. Surrounding the treadmill there are 10 motion capture cameras utilizing the reflective markers as well as a couple of normal video cameras. Behind the register are large screens that show a live video feeds and confirm that all markers are recorded. This provides a new experience of seeing yourself from a third party perspective while you run and can be a bit unsettling initially! Once warmed up and all markers were confirmed, Peter instructed me to begin the first segment at 5:00/km (about 8:02/mile).  Once recorded, we moved on to 4:17/km (6:53/mile) and then finally 3:45/km (6:02/mile). The paces are determined by an individual’s 10K personal record and are unique to every person who comes to the lab. Immediately after finishing, Peter had some initial comments about my arm swing that he concluded just from visual observation and asked me to try a couple of changes right away. This improved my leg “wheel” openness immediately and I was commended on my ability to learn :). We had decided to postpone the data analysis until both Carsten and I had completed the data recording, so next it was Carsten turn to run. His data recording went similarly to mine, and we ran at the same paces, even though he’s a bit faster than me.
After the data recording segments, we showered and then stood with Peter and Lhina by the large monitors to look at the results.  Peter took me through my results in English and Carsten’s in Swedish. The results are provided as online reports (in Swedish, Link to Salming RunLAB Results: Carsten and Jay). The data is identical to what we went over in the lab, but is presented in a nicer format. In the online version, the focus is on the summary of the suggested improvements with details following, whereas in person, we went through the details first and then concluded with improvements.  The areas captured and analyzed are categorized as follows:
A.                         Arms & Hands
B.                         Legs & Feet
C.                        Hips
D.                        Overall Body
By looking at each categories’ graphs, you can see the differences in result by the different paces as well as a comparison to Swedish elite athletes that have been through the same analysis. The data itself is interesting, particularly if you are a data geek, but the real value came through the experience of Peter as a coach going through each result and explaining what it meant and how changes in form affect each area.  Peter took his time and was patient and knowledgeable when handling our (many) questions and gave us a thorough insight into what conclusions could be drawn from this kind of data capture driven analysis. To back up some findings from the recorded data, we where instructed to perform some additional exercises while being closely scrutinized by Peter and Lhina.
In my case, the biggest change to be made was in the area of arm swing and hip angle.  Peter suggested that I make sure to bring my elbows back to my body on the upswing of my arms and then allowing my forearms to swing more freely forward.  At the same time, I was angling my pelvis too far forward and needed to push my hips forward a bit in order to vertically align my body and allow a larger foot wheel and freer arm swing.  These suggested changes were demonstrated to me and then I was coached through them on the treadmill so I understood and could create some movement memory.
Carsten had similar shortcomings with his arm swing and the pelvis rotation, but interestingly, both the causes for these shortcomings and the suggested changes were different from those I got. This stresses that the actual data recording is only one part of the RunLAB experience, the real value comes from the experts who analyze the data for you.
The briefing on form improvement concluded the actual RunLAB experience. A couple of days after the session Carsten and I got the weblinks to our reports, which, at least in Carsten’s case, also included some exercises which should help him improve his pelvis rotation.
It is possible to book a follow-up RunLAB session in order to see whether the suggested changes have improved the running form or not. Carsten and I will hopefully be able to do this second analysis in the near future.
In summary, this has been a very valuable experience. Just by looking at the setup of the treadmill in the middle of Salming’s flagship one might conclude that this is just another fancy way of fitting running shoes. One couldn’t be more wrong. Just to fit shoes this setup is complete overkill (and accordingly also not used by Salming for this purpose). Instead it is a very advanced biomechanical analysis which can tell you more than you possibly want to know about your running form (“A heelstriker, I? Never!”). The real value, however, is only partly in the recorded data. The input from the experts is what makes this experience worth its money. Alas, this also brings us to the one negative point: as you might imagine the analysis is quite expensive, roughly $220 for one session, or $330 for two. However, considering that this is a rare chance to truly improve your running form it might be well worth the money. Most runner’s are pretty bad at realizing the importance of proper form, yet in the long run it is probably more important than another training cycle full of interval workouts. As such the cost of two or three pair of running shoes seems be reasonable. It is definitely more worth the money than similarly priced V02max tests.