FitTech Insider

When are we able to predict injuries, Nikola Mrvaljevic?

Nikola Mrvaljevic is the co-founder and CEO at STRIVE. As a former athlete and biomedical engineer Nikola is passioned to take human performance to the next level. At STRIVE his goal is to support professional athletes to know their bodies, perform better, and to manage injury risks.

The inspiration to start STRIVE originates in Nikola´s personal life: As a pro basketball player in Montenegro, he often asked himself why his coaches were having him and his teammates do workouts that would leave them overly fatigued, he shares in the Driving Force Podcast. “If only there could be a way to help coaches understand how their players are feeling”, he thought. Hence the beginning of the idea for STRIVE. In the run-up to FitTech summit V: Tech or Die! Nikola sat down with FitTech Insider to chat about the importance of warm ups, the benefits of cooperations, and the (recent) impossibility to predict injuries.

Nikola, your company STRIVE promises athletes to improve power and decrease the risk for injuries. How do athletes use your smart underpants?
Imagine a soccer game. When you look at the midfielder versus the forward and see those sprints you can imagine how the muscles are fatiguing. In order to prove something you have to measure – that's the philosophy that I've implemented my whole life. So with STRIVE we can start quantifying: What does fatigue look like? Does fatigue look like hamstrings giving up first? Does fatigue look like the left leg giving up first? If we understand where the weak points are in the system, we can start working those out and strengthening those, moving towards the target goal and the target symmetries.

Nikola Mrvaljevic at FitTech Summit V: Tech or Die!

On November 8 and 9, 2021, FitTech Summit V: Tech or Die! will take place digitally. At Europe's most relevant conference on the future of fitness and health technology, Nikola Mrvaljevic will discuss the future of smart apparel. Get your free ticket now!

So your data makes weaknesses transparent?
I like to think of it more as we educate the customer on where the opportunities for improvements are. We make transparent how they can be better, stronger, or faster. In the NFL, for example, we work with some athletes and found a particular correlation between the speed of the ball and the strength of their glutes. So we help them train their glutes so they can increase the speed of the ball.

The human performance is way more impressive once you can collect the data. And once you can learn those insights. Hamstrings, for example, are extremely underdeveloped in most athletes. So I'm on a mission to improve the hamstrings and glutes for athletes and to help them train better and hopefully minimize injury risks along the way. Our data helps to achive that.

How do you use data to minimize injuries?
A lot of injuries happen when athletes have to rapidly decelerate, change direction, and then accelerate, that's where you put a massive strain on your posterior chain, on your ankles and tendons. So, if we can start looking at these data sets together, taking the GPS data, taking the muscle data, and even the heartrate. Then we can start showing exactly where the risks are and start quantifying the opportunities for improvement.

STRIVE delivers the only platform proven to optimize muscle performance for elite athletes and teams. STRIVE enables clothing with technology to capture performance insights to empower real-time decision-making. Proprietary algorithms and sensors that seamlessly integrate into the compression clothing are the basis. STRIVE provides the most complete, accurate and actionable data for athletes to always compete at peak performance. Founded in 2016, STRIVE currently works with NCAA, NFL, EPL, and MLS teams, along with the US Military. Due to popular demand STRIVE plans to transition into the consumer market in 2022.

Is there a finding that applies to all athletes?
We found that there's an overall smaller muscle load throughout the practice if you have a longer and better warmup. To a lot of people warmup is not important, but it turns out that the longer you do it, the better you prepare, the smaller the exertion is throughout the practice.

In a recent interview with you said: “we are the only company that essentially monitors the body input and the body output”. What does that mean exactly?
The body output are accelerations, decelerations, or jumps, for example. The input is created by muscles, they're the engine of the body. We monitor muscles and motion, we have a accelerometer, a gyroscope, and all of that on board. The muscles have to flex for you to accelerate, and we monitor in real time what your exertion is. Looking at the data you can start adjusting your training methods, adjusting recovery, which is extremely important. While we are a performance company I must say: if you're not taking this data to drive the recovery improvements, I think you're under utilizing the muscle dataset.

You founded STRIVE a couple years ago. What assumption about your potential customers did you have at the beginning of your journey? And how did those evolve with the time?
Before STRIVE was started I interviewed 42 coaches and asked them what they use, what they like, what they don't like, and what is on their wish list. This way I compiled a list of products and features that STRIVE can offer. But as we grew we realized that our value add is really in fatigue muscles and working around injuries. So over the last few years, we have narrowed our vision. We want to be the muscle company, we want to be the best muscle data platform in the world.

Visualizing muscle power consumption: "Looking at the data you can start adjusting your training methods, adjusting recovery." (@Strive)

What other data that you've collected during the last weeks, months and years illustrate the power of your solution?
More than 90% of our customers have worked with STRIVE for over a year. I think that is because STRIVE is a very unique solution for different personas within a sports team such as coaches, athletes, sport scientists and human heads of performance. That allowed us to be more utilized.

So let's move on to your business model. Which business model do you work with?
We're a SaaS company. The sports teams and military are buying the muscle data set as an annual license. We just provide shorts as a platform to collect that data.

What is the most important decision you will have to make for your company next year?
Due to the popular demand we will move our product from a B2B business model to the B2C market. The transition to the consumer market will be a colossal challenge. Right now we are only working with professional athletes, the US military and US Special Forces. Slowly we are moving into the industrial markets. Our target group are people who are truly pushing their body to the limits in an organized environment or team.

Will the business model be a different one when consumers purchase your smart underpants? They probably assume they pay for the pants – not for the data …
In the US companies like Peloton and Whoop are doing the SaaS model with a monthly pricing. I see a lot of value, and a lot of positives in that pricing structure. But we are still figuring out and ironing out details.

Who is the most interesting sub target group for you on the B2C market?
We want to serve individuals who care about their performance. We don't care if you're 40, 50, 60, or 20. If you want to understand where your weak points are, and what you need to improve you are our customer. Cyclists, runners, CrossFit athletes, for example, are really focused on their data. We have female athletes, we have male athletes, and they're all starting to care more and more. Where am I today versus yesterday? How can I be better tomorrow?

This year has been a year of cooperations for STRIVE. For the AI aspect you partnered with Macnica. To provide precise positional data you are partnering with Kinexon. How exactly did those cooperations enhance your product?
Kinexon is one of the leaders in motion tracking industry. We match the best motion data with the STRIVE data to understand the movement, the muscles, and to build a big picture of the athletes´ training, exertion rates, etc.

Macnica´s AI individualizes insights. Muscles are very unique. The more insights and correlations on how you train, prepare, and recover, the more insightful it can be. The beauty of learning based AI is that we can start understanding patterns. Years down the road, if we have a big data set, we can start being more confident in our risk management analysis.

Does that mean in the future you will be able to predict injuries?
Nobody can predict injuries. I can only predict the probability of an injury. For example: if we understand that your right hamstring is working 75% harder than your left hamstring, that's an issue. When we talk about prediction down the road we're not talking just about STRIVE data sets. Prediction will only happen when we put all datasets together and start learning globally how the body performs. Some companies claim, you can take their data set and predict injuries. I hate to break it to you: It's bullshit. Sorry!

What kind of next partnerships are you looking for?
We have quite a few things in the pipeline right now. My philosophy from the beginning was that we're stronger together. And I think, from the muscle data perspective we can compliment the heart rate data, the motion data, the temperature data, the hydration data. All these companies are potential partners for STRIVE.

Let´s move on to your target market. First of all, would you say it's the market of smart garments? Or is it the wearable market?
We are not a wearable! We are a health data tech company. We play on the sports technology market. Customers are realizing the beauty of training by themselves. I think that we're at the beginning of a much accelerated growth.

Where do you think this market of tracking health data is moving to?
I think we are moving to the world of continuous 24/7 data streams. I think those 24/7 data streams are only enabled when we get our hardware to a place of 24/7 comfort.
It´s a very hardware driven question not a software driven question to be honest.
If a shirt is just comfortable and provides the data we can start to talk about the general population. I think we are trending in that direction and feel very confident that in a few years you will be wearing a shirt and nobody knows that it provides insights.

What is the most underestimated trend in your market at the moment?
I think health cockpit is coming and I am extremely excited about it. Because: that’s it. Once we can customize training, preparation, and recovery – that’s the endgame! Everybody wants to be healthy. Nobody wants to get injured or wants to go to the hospital. That´s what we want to do: improve health and safety – not only for athletes but the general population.

What headline would you like to read about your company by the end of 2022?
“STRIVE provides insights about the human body that have never been seen before”. There is a lot of room for improvement – especially in the UX. That´s the engineer in me talking now, not the ex athlete.