Performance Enhancer
With OptoJump from Performance Spine & Sports, athletes—professionals and amateurs alike—discover a revolutionary tool for assessing and improving their abilities
by Phil Gianficaro

The grizzled coach straight out of central casting stood high on the bleachers and watched his prized sprinter flash down the track.

The coach’s wise old eyes locked onto the runner. He examined, evaluated and banked in his mind’s file cabinet all aspects of the performance, from head movement to arm swing to step length to stride angle.

As the runner crossed the finish line, the coach pressed his thumb to his stopwatch, pinched a chewed-up pencil and scratched the result on a dog-eared notepad, and that was that. Time was when that type of procedure was viewed as the most accurate evaluating tool for logging an athlete’s performance and progress.

Of course, it was once believed the only way to produce fire was to create friction by rubbing sticks together. But time marches on, techniques improve, and amazing technologies develop and, out of necessity, find their way into the mainstream.

OptoJump is that latest innovative wave, and Performance Spine & Sports Medicine in Newtown has it.

OptoJump is a computerized gait-analysis system that delivers a new philosophy of assessment and optimization of performance to the world of competitive sports. It’s designed for the development of a specific and customized training program for the athlete based exclusively on precise objective data.

Developed in Europe and utilized by many of the top professional soccer clubs there, the OptoJump system is an athletic measurement system that consists of bars that receive and transmit data. Each bar consists of 32 to 96 LEDs, depending upon the desired resolution, that transmit and receive real-time information on an athlete’s performance, be it running or jumping. As an athlete performs between or within the boundary of the bars, his movements and speed are recorded and logged.

The system can identify an interruption of that communication and measure it, allowing the evaluator to quantify flight and contact times with accuracy of one-1,000th of a second. Such data allows the software of the system to obtain accurate benchmarks for the athlete’s performance.

“This technology is amazing, and we’re the only practice in the region that offers it,” says Percy Naranjo, chief financial officer/director of marketing for Performance Spine & Sports Medicine, which offers exceptional orthopedic medical care, sports medicine and pain management with an emphasis on nonsurgical solutions and treatments.

“When we first saw the system a few years ago,” he continues, “we wondered why this has been kept with top soccer teams in Europe and some in the U.S. We saw an advantage it would bring to us, that it would be valuable to our patients. And our competitors didn’t have it, so we went for it. It’s been a tremendous asset.”

The OptoJump bars can extend from two to 100 meters, allowing for evaluation over a short or extended playing field. Small cameras can be positioned in desired places during the athlete’s performance, allowing for the recording of the images of the tests performed and synchronizing them perfectly with the events measured. This makes it possible to enjoy the advantages of cross-checking between data and images and also those deriving from more detailed video analysis.

The film sequences and all the other data are saved in the database. This makes it possible to consult them at any moment and, as with numerical data, to make comparisons between the performances of different athletes or of the same athlete at different moments.

That’s quite an improvement from a coach holding a stopwatch.

“With OptoJump, it’s possible to evaluate an athlete’s performance in various ways,” Naranjo says. “It can rapidly identify any muscle weakness, endurance to different workloads and develop personal-training programs on the basis of individual test results. It also allows the user to periodically check an athlete’s improvements, create a database to compare the data, examine and athlete’s condition after an injury, develop an appropriate rehabilitation plan and monitor progress, and obtain objective judgment when talent scouting or selecting athletes.”

OptoJump, which is easily transportable, can be placed on the lateral bands of any treadmill for walking or running analysis, assisting even the noncompetitive or amateur athlete to improve performance.

“For so long we’ve relied on archaic mechanisms or tools our forefathers used to chart an athlete’s progress,” Naranjo says. “Now we have OptoJump, which measures to within one-1,000th of a second. The time of a blink of an eye is four-tenths of a second.”

While marveling at OptoJump’s ability to gather information in ways like never before, Naranjo emphasizes that perhaps the most important part of the system is being able to interpret and apply the findings.

“Anyone can buy OptoJump for their home, but no one has a clinical understanding of the results except those of us who do,” he says. “There’s not a manual to help with that, to know what the output the system provides actually means on a clinical level. After you obtain the measurables from an athlete’s performance, you have to know what they mean to apply them. You need someone who has a strong foundation of what they mean. That’s what we do best.”

Performance Spine & Sports Medicine in September partnered with the Philadelphia Flyers’ minor league affiliate, the Trenton Titans of the East Coast Hockey League, to have their players evaluated with OptoJump.

“Their general manager was sold on OptoJump right away,” Naranjo says. “When we told him it was a way for his trainers and doctors to better assess their players, he understood what a powerful tool it is. He wants us to assess their athletes and follow up with reports from a health and athletic improvement standpoint.

“What the GM liked most,” he continues, “is that it allows them to customize the workout regiment for their athletes; it’s not a cookie-cutter program for all players. All players are different.”

Naranjo has heard from the skeptics, those who continue to believe that a pair of wise of old eyes and a stopwatch are still as good as any new technology.

“I tell them they sound like those people who insisted for centuries the world was flat,” he says. “Well, I’m Copernicus telling them the world is absolutely round. And OptoJump is absolutely the finest tool to assess an athlete’s performance.”

Performance Spine & Sports Medicine
828A Newtown-Yardley Road
Newtown, PA 18940
Phone: 215-504-2223
Fax: 215-504-2141
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.