Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor enters the 2022 NFL season as one of the best players in his position if he can stay healthy.

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“You understand the risk-reward ratio of the sport we play,” said Taylor, who has proven his endurance early in his career but is well aware of the risks. “It’s a very violent game.”

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Taylor takes a proactive approach to the types of injuries that can ruin a season or a career – soft tissue injuries to muscles, ligaments and tendons. He studied the physiological effects of his physical training.

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And this year, he decided to put his money into it as well, investing in Strive, a technology company that quantifies muscle performance to assess optimal workload, fatigue levels, and other factors that today’s NFL players face.

“You have to really trust your preparation,” Taylor said. “… Everything you did in the run-up to the season and also during the season. Doing your best to mitigate as many factors as possible that will lead to these soft tissue injuries.”

Understanding muscle performance is critical for runners like Taylor given they rely on their legs for explosion, power, agility and acceleration. Leg sprains represent the #1 injury burden in the NFL, with hamstring sprains leading the way.

These types of injuries aren’t new, but they’ve become so common and costly, both in terms of staffing and dollars spent, that the NFL has formed a committee to look into the problem, as well as a $4 million research grant to the University of Wisconsin. — where Taylor attended college — for the prospective study of hamstring injuries in football players.

The study aims to identify risk factors for injury and re-injury to the hamstring in order to better understand and implement strategies to reduce this risk.

Players know that leg sprains (muscle or tendon injuries from the hip to the ankle) sustained in a season are especially devastating. Hamstring sprains result in wasted time for approximately 75% of players, and the variability among them (from severity to location) combined with their often vague symptoms (such as tightness/stiffness/pain) makes them particularly difficult to treat effectively. In addition, the chance of relapse after returning to the game is up to 20%.

Taylor was trying to figure out how to avoid becoming another statistic. He met with Nikola Mrvalevich, CEO and co-founder of Strive. The company uses sensors embedded in compression garments to record muscle activity during various activities and convert the data into real-time graphic displays.

Mrvalevich is a former European professional basketball player whose initial inspiration for the product came after he saw a series of injuries among teammates following a drastic increase in workload while training in the mountains. Given the lack of data available to athletes during field training, Mrvalevich sought to quantify an athlete’s muscular performance in real-world conditions rather than in a lab or clinic.

He said it’s particularly difficult to replicate deceleration followed by rapid lateral acceleration—motions that are common in sports training and real-world play—in the lab.

“This is where our bodies really work to their limits,” Mrvalevich said.

According to Mrvalevich, the sticker-style sensors pick up electrical signals generated by lower limb muscle activity (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes) as well as motion data generated by the accelerometer. Combining the two datasets then provides insights (eg, muscle performance, symmetry, and fatigue) delivered to the user’s electronic device for training and recovery. [The company has partnered with several universities to conduct third party validation comparisons with other medical devices.]

According to Mrvalevich, the main consideration for an athlete should be: “How do you move? Are you more efficient today than yesterday? Are there any troubling factors?

For Taylor, being able to see his cumulative data at different stages of training—both off-season and in-competition—allows him to make adjustments based on the type of work he has been doing and any associated shortcomings.

“If the first half of the month was the heavy part of my workouts related to plio speed and the second half was the heavy part of the strength part, when I look at my data, do I see a difference?” he said. “Do I notice any changes between my glutes, hamstrings, quads? Is there anything that’s wrong on speed days? When I move into power, does my strength come more from my hamstrings for those specific exercises, or more from my quads?

Taylor noted that he has been working on integrating the technology into football-related activities in preparation for training camp.

“Nothing prepares you for football quite like playing football,” Taylor said. “But if I can model what we do in training camp, the exercises that I will do throughout the camp, can I look at this data and see what I am missing? Then I can communicate with my training staff to say, “Hey, I really need to work on some things to get ready for camp.”

Taylor said he believes Strive-generated data, which he uses to track his performance and recovery, is his best weapon against a physical breakdown.

“Accessibility is a huge issue in this sport,” he said. “We know the risk reward factor. But if we can get everyone on the field, most everyone available, the fans will see a lot of great football throughout the fall and the guys will feel better.” Nobody wants to be hurt. No one wants to go through this at all.”