Why clubs laud the NordBord
Written by Simon Austin — June 14, 2017
THE must-have item at Premier League training grounds is difficult to decipher unless you’re in the know.
When players use it, they kneel on top before slowly falling to the ground in the press-up position. For the uninitiated it might seem a little, well, strange.
However, this piece of kit – the NordBord Hamstring Testing System – is used by 16 of the 20 Premier League clubs and has the potential to save them millions of pounds every season.
Hamstring injuries are the most common in the top flight, accounting for 15% of the total last season. That equated to a staggering £19million in lost wages.
The NordBord allows clubs to test their players’ hamstring strength and imbalance to screen for risk of future injury. The NordBord also helps clubs know when an athlete is ready to return to the pitch after a hamstring injury.
“The reason the NordBord came about was pure necessity really,” explains Laurie Malone, CEO of Brisbane-based Vald Performance, which is responsible for the system.
“Previously there were two ways that hamstrings could be tested – the first was a massive chair that generally sits in a hospital, costs about A$100,000 and takes 15 minutes to conduct a test; the second a hand-held dynamometer which you hold in your hand and is quick but has reliability issues. Health professionals and performance coaches wanted a portable device that could quickly and reliably test athletes.”
The original NordBord prototype was developed by Dr Tony Shield and Dr David Opar at Queensland University of Technology, who had used it to conduct three large hamstring studies - in Autralian Rules Football, football and rugby union - showing a correlation between hamstring strength and imbalance and an elevated risk of a future injury.
It soon became clear that their product had a commercial value to sporting organisations and athletes and the University set up Vald Performance (Vald being an Old Norse word for strength, power and control) to commercialise the NordBord.
Malone gave up his career as a commercial lawyer to come in as an investor and CEO, with his best friend Sam James as chief technology officer.
Word soon got out about the NordBord (which happened very quickly) and sports teams from around the world began to ask if they could one. Both Vald and the University wanted to make sure that the product, and the research behind it, were fantastic first.
“The University refused to provide prototypes until Dr Opar had finished his PhD and could say hand on heart that the NordBord could help with hamstring injuries,” Malone remembers.
“The caution shown by the University meant that by the time we commercially launched, we already had 50 clients, on day one, which was very humbling.”
All in all, it took five-and-a-half years to get the product ready for market.
“The first NordBord was a piece of foam with a moon boot with wires attached everywhere,” Malone chuckles. “It was quite an unattractive and slow piece of equipment. Now it has Bluetooth, takes about a minute to do a test, and the backend software and cloud analytics is certainly a lot more sophisticated than when the data was collected in Excel.”
Part of the beauty of the NordBord is how easy it is to use. Although Vald provides robust ‘on-boarding’ in how to use the product and what to look out for, it doesn’t require a skilled operator. Quite often, the athletes will test themselves.
Athletes perform a Nordic hamstring curl (hence the name) which determines the hamstrings strength and imbalance.
“What you do is a controlled fall with your knee, hip and shoulder in line,” says the affable Aussie. “After three repetitions you can tell what your left and right hamstring strength is and what the imbalance is between the two”.
“There’s a data collection app, called ScoreBord, which is available on iOS, PC and Mac. It takes a minute to collect the data, before it’s sent to the cloud and there’s a DashBord for the heavier analytics.
“You can look at the research and tell where your strength sits on the risk profile and where your imbalance between right and left is.”
An American NCAA Football program was one of Vald’s early clients.
“They’d had 56 hamstring injuries the season before they had a NordBord,” remembers Malone. “They got one in hope more than anything.
"And they went from 56 hamstring injuries to only 12 the following year. Now, not all of that was down to the NordBord, but what it allowed them to do was measure their athletes quickly and tailor a programme to help them.
“Prior to that they wouldn’t have had the visibility of an athlete’s hamstring strength and would have had to make a best guess. Now they can make deliberate decisions based on objective data so, for them, it was very powerful.”
Leicester City were one of the earliest adopters in the Premier League, buying two NordBords – one for the first team and one for the Academy - at the start of the 2015/16 season.
They went on to have the lowest number of injuries among the 20 clubs and - as pretty much anyone, anywhere, knows - became the unlikeliest title winners in English football history.
Away from the Premier League, seven Championship teams have NordBords, as well as 18 NFL franchises, 10 Major League Baseball teams and seven NBA sides.
As Malone says: “Athletes are a club’s biggest asset. To have them not playing is a huge cost - plus you’ll lose more games than you would have if they were playing. Looking after those athletes is big business.”
The physical product itself is well established, meaning the big developments now are in terms of the data collected and how this can be used.
“We have more than 70,000 tests on the server and over 250 clients,” Malone reveals. “This allows us to tell a client, for example, the normative data for a 220lb running back in the NFL.
“Dr Opar and Dr Shield both still work at the University and oversee a team of 16 hamstring researchers. Clients have direct access to those guys, so they can send back data and find out what the researchers think and what they should be doing in order to comply with better practice.
“People want to know what’s happening not just at this moment in time, but what will happen next week and the week after, to see a trend for their athlete. Longitudinal assessments of data are having more of an impact on how people train their athletes rather than just a single point in time.
“The beauty of the NordBord being in the Premier League for two full seasons is that they are starting to see a lot more trends and are correlating it with other data such as GPS, heart rate and bodyweight.”
The product is patent pending in all of the major jurisdictions, with the first having just been granted in Russia.
And Vald has recently launched another product, the GroinBar Hip Strength Testing System, which tests hip strength and imbalance and is already in use in the Premier League. A third product is due to be unveiled very soon and will “shift the company into general population health”.
Meanwhile, the NordBord goes from strength to strength, being seen as standard equipment in the gyms of most Premier League sides.