Close to the his­toric city of Nurem­berg, elite sci­en­tists are at work on some of the most in­no­va­tive train­ing so­lu­tions the sporting world has seen. To lift the cur­tain on the tech rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing your fit­ness pur­suits, MH trav­elled to Ger­many for an excl


We give you an in­side look at the Adi­das Lab, where fu­ture world records are bro­ken

On the se­cluded site of a former Luft­waffe air­field, close to the old Bavar­ian town of Her­zo­ge­nau­rach, the head­quar­ters of Ger­man sports­wear brand Adi­das oc­cu­pies a se­cluded 39-hectare site. It is dom­i­nated by a fu­tur­is­tic, sev­en­storey op­er­a­tions cen­tre named ‘Laces’, af­ter the walk­ways that criss- cross its 30m-high glass atrium. As be­fits a brand of its her­itage – and one that re­ported a rev­enue of £17bn in 2016 – the cam­pus is pro­fes­sional and invit­ing, ap­pear­ing to have based its work­ing cul­ture on the gi­ants of Sil­i­con Val­ley. Out­side, on its rolling lawns, a small group of its 3000 em­ploy­ees are play­ing vol­ley­ball, while in­side, oth­ers sit down to lunch in one of a num­ber of high-end cam­pus res­tau­rants. On to­day’s menu: a healthy chicken curry de­vised by the Ger­man foot­ball team’s Miche­lin-starred chef, Hol­ger Stromberg.

But MH’S visit has noth­ing to do with par­tic­i­pat­ing in em­ployee sports matches nor sam­pling be­spoke baltis. Hid­den in a far corner of the fa­cil­ity – and pro­tected by rig­or­ous se­cu­rity – is the por­tal to the Adi­das Fu­ture Lab, an in­no­va­tion hub where an elite group of 40 re­searchers, biome­chan­ics and sci­en­tists are hard at work in the race to pi­o­neer game-chang­ing sporting equip­ment that will help you run fur­ther, score more goals and shat­ter your marathon PB. The tools at their dis­posal in­clude ad­vanced ro­bot­ics, state- of-the-art sen­sors and highly-tuned ma­chin­ery vet­ted by NASA, mak­ing this the van­guard of ath­letic progress. To­day, MH has been af­forded a rare glimpse of the fu­ture of fit­ness.

Chang­ing Pace

As the sound of fly­ing foot­balls echoes around the cav­ernous, white-walled lab, youth­ful sci­en­tists (all dressed in jeans – there isn’t a lab coat to be seen) con­sult com­puter screens, analysing how al­ter­nate boot de­signs in­flu­ence spin rate and speed. Across the room, a 3D

com­puter model tracks the lower-body biome­chan­ics of an ath­lete per­form­ing 10m shut­tles.

Much has changed since founder, Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler, cob­bled to­gether his first run­ning shoes in his mother’s laun­dry room in 1924, pedalling a sta­tion­ary bike to power his rudi­men­tary sew­ing ma­chine dur­ing elec­tric­ity short­ages. Opened in 2012, the lab is a place for the com­pany to nur­ture its in­no­va­tions away from the pub­lic eye. This is no mere pro­duc­tion line. Nor are its re­searchers sim­ply con­cerned with aes­thet­ics. Here, each prod­uct is de­signed to of­fer mi­cro-en­hance­ments to your stamina, speed and mo­bil­ity, with macro re­sults.

The lab has al­ready played a role in de­vel­op­ing a num­ber of high-per­form­ing (and high-sell­ing) prod­ucts, from the Ul­tra Boost shoe – us­ing soles made from 3000 ther­mo­plas­tic elas­tomers to lit­er­ally ‘ boost’ for­ward mo­men­tum – to the lace­less Ace 16+ Pure­con­trol foot­ball boot – with a flex­i­ble knit­ted yarn for ball con­trol. And while mar­ket­ing staff are busy plan­ning for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the lab team is think­ing fur­ther ahead, with prod­ucts cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment for re­lease in 2023. In short, this is where fu­ture records are bro­ken.

“This is my sand­box,” smiles Klaus Rolshoven, di­rec­tor of communications. An en­thu­si­as­tic speaker in his late for­ties, Rolshoven has oc­cu­pied his cur­rent role for 19 years, also work­ing as a de­signer. Tin­ker­ing away on new in­ven­tory sits along­side home-brew­ing as one of his twin pas­sions in life. “Our team is here to learn, make mis­takes and ask ques­tions. We’re not in­ter­ested in lim­it­ing our­selves. We take an idea, dis­sect it, test it, im­prove it and do our best to turn it into some­thing phys­i­cal.”

It helps, of course, to have the right tools to hand, and here only the best will do. In a corner of the lab is a run­ning track sur­rounded by a Vi­con mo­tion cap­ture cam­era sys­tem. It is the same imaging tech­nol­ogy NASA uses to test the mo­bil­ity of its space suits, and has also been used

“This lab is where fu­ture world records are bro­ken”

by Hol­ly­wood stu­dios to per­fect mo­tion cap­ture per­for­mances on the Star Wars and Juras­sic World fran­chises.

As a test ath­lete runs back and forth, 16 high-speed cam­eras beam data to a gi­ant screen, cre­at­ing a 3D model of his move­ments for in­stant anal­y­sis. The cam­eras fo­cus on ev­ery joint of his body, en­abling tech­ni­cians to ac­cu­rately trace the arcs of in­di­vid­ual body parts. This data will be used to re­fine the shoe, ready for an­other round of test­ing, and so on un­til the fin­ished prod­uct is ready for launch.

“Vi­con lets us test con­cepts like ac­cel­er­a­tion, de­cel­er­a­tion, run­ning econ­omy and com­fort,” ex­plains Rolshoven. This in­stant feed­back al­lows for an im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion of how to make each shoe per­form bet­ter.

Race Against Time

An­other key com­po­nent in the lab is the Kistler force plate – a rec­tan­gu­lar slab ca­pa­ble of mea­sur­ing up to 20kn (equiv­a­lent to 2040kg) of force in or­der to de­tect sub­tle changes in a run­ner’s gait or bal­ance. The plate is con­structed from quartz crys­tals, which emit an elec­tric charge when sub­jected to a me­chan­i­cal load. So pre­cise is this mea­sure­ment, that it was Kistler tech­nol­ogy that helped the Euro­pean Space Agency land its Rosetta space probe on a mov­ing comet in 2014.

It’s ar­guable that em­ploy­ing space age tech to de­velop shoes is as overblown as it is prof­li­gate. But in the pro­fes­sional arena, the data it pro­duces proves in­valu­able. Fea­tures like weight and cush­ion­ing – of­ten dis­missed as the stuff of mar­ket­ing spiel – are in fact proven per­for­mance-en­hancers. “A weight re­duc­tion of 100g is proven to de­liver a 1% in­crease in run­ning econ­omy,” says Mathias Amm, prod­uct cat­e­gory di­rec­tor at Adi­das Run­ning. In a sport where each mil­lisec­ond counts, that 1% can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween fail­ure and a lu­cra­tive vic­tory for ath­lete and spon­sor.

Back in Fe­bru­ary, this the­ory was put to the test when, equipped with the new, light­weight Adizero Sub2 marathon shoe, two-time Lon­don marathon win­ner Wil­son Kip­sang ran the Tokyo Marathon in 2:03:58. At the time, it was the fastest com­pleted on Ja­panese soil. But it wasn’t a record-breaker, nor even the fastest marathon Kip­sang had run. Then, in May, Rio 2016 gold medal­ist Eliud Kip­choge ran an un­of­fi­cial marathon in 2:00:25 as part of Nike’s Break­ing2 project. It is no sur­prise that the sports­wear gi­ants are

“Mar­ginal gains can add up to a huge dif­fer­ence”

locked in a fierce bat­tle to equip the first ath­lete to break this bar­rier. Kip­choge was tan­ta­lis­ingly close, com­fort­ably eclips­ing Adi­das’s ef­fort. But mar­ginal gains could be the key to suc­cess. “Small, in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence when brought to­gether across the 20,000 foot­steps an ath­lete takes dur­ing a marathon,” says Amm.

The Adi­das team also be­lieves that grip will play a cru­cial role in im­prov­ing per­for­mance. “We test it by ap­ply­ing force to a shoe and slid­ing it over a sur­face,” ex­plains Amm. “If the foot slips 1mm with each step, this makes a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in ef­fi­ciency when at­tack­ing a world record.” Re­search in the Jour­nal of Tex­tile and Ap­parel has shown that high­trac­tion soles can help run­ners shave 0.05s from ev­ery 16m. Over the course of a marathon, this equates to 132 sec­onds. If Adi­das can be­come the first com­pany to har­ness this, it may just make his­tory.

One Step Ahead

The ma­jor­ity of the lab’s ex­per­i­ments may be fo­cused on footwear, but high-tech shoes alone will not help an ath­lete achieve great­ness if his body is at risk of over­work or over­heat­ing. This is why re­searchers sub­mit each item of sports ap­parel to rig­or­ous tem­per­a­ture- con­trolled tests in a cli­mate cham­ber, ca­pa­ble of repli­cat­ing an Arc­tic chill of -30°C, or a swel­ter­ing Sa­ha­ran blast of up to 50°C.

Ac­cord­ing to Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity re­search, men run­ning at an av­er­age of 75% of their VO2 max sweat 120% more from their up­per back than from their chest. Given that the back is ex­posed to fewer cool­ing air cur­rents dur­ing run­ning, this seems a some­what in­ef­fi­cient method of reg­u­lat­ing body tem­per­a­ture. The Lough­bor­ough re­searchers be­lieve this may well be a legacy of our evo­lu­tion­ary past, when hu­mans moved on all fours, ex­pos­ing the back to greater air­flow. Putting such the­o­ries to the test in or­der to op­ti­mise its lat­est sweat-wick­ing ap­parel is pre­cisely the pur­pose of the lab. As is the tall or­der of mea­sur­ing ev­ery met­ric likely to im­pact an ath­lete’s per­for­mance.

“Dur­ing hu­man tests in the cham­ber we mea­sure every­thing from body tem­per­a­ture to VO2 max, heart rate and lac­tic acid ac­cu­mu­la­tion in or­der to see how cloth­ing in­flu­ences per­for­mance,” ex­plains Rolshoven. As be­fits a se­cre­tive in­no­va­tions lab, some as­pects of test­ing have a slightly more sci-fi lean­ing. “When en­ter­ing the cham­ber, ath­letes swal­low a dis­solv­able pill with a sen­sor in­side it. It takes 20 min­utes to en­ter the sys­tem, then we use a hand­held ra­dio de­vice on their stom­ach to get an im­me­di­ate and ac­cu­rate body tem­per­a­ture read­ing.”

Im­prov­ing com­fort and dura­bil­ity also plays a sig­nif­i­cant part in the lab’s work. Re­cently, the New Zealand rugby team stopped by to test their new kit. “We ran some li­ne­out tests to see where the shirts were grabbed so we could an­a­lyse where they needed more strength or flex­i­bil­ity,” Rolshoven ex­plains. Us­ing live-cap­ture data, any small stick­ing point is noted, re­worked and im­proved upon in such a way that a team’s per­for­mance wear is con­stantly evolv­ing along with the game.

Ball Con­trol

Un­sur­pris­ingly, foot­ball also forms a huge part of the lab’s fo­cus, with prod­uct man­ager Philipp Hagel over­see­ing the de­vel­op­ment of all new boots. “Us­ing our high-speed cam­eras [the same mod­els Audi uses to mon­i­tor im­pact dur­ing crash tests] we get fan­tas­tic slow-mo­tion footage of how spe­cific parts of a shoe per­form when a player changes di­rec­tion. We can even see how mus­cles con­nected to the foot are im­pacted as they move.”

The lat­est boot to use this tech­nol­ogy is the agility-en­hanc­ing Ne­meziz, made from a wrap-like as­sem­bly of tor­sion tapes. “It was in­spired by the way bal­leri­nas wrap their feet and box­ers wrap their hands,” says Hagel. “To test dura­bil­ity, we put pro­to­types in a ma­chine that flexes them 100 times per minute. Then we do a min­i­mum of 80 hours’ test­ing.” If that sounds ex­ces­sive, con­sider that this forms but a small part of a twoyear process from in­cep­tion to com­ple­tion. And when your prod­ucts will be used by some of the high­est-paid ath­letes in the world, noth­ing can be left to chance.

So far, this con­sid­ered process seems to be pay­ing off: al­ready this year Lionel Messi has scored a 20-yard strike and set up a goal with a twist­ing, turn­ing run when he wore the shoes in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Alaves in the Copa del Rey fi­nal in May. Mean­while, Manch­ester United’s Jesse Lin­gard and Liver­pool’s Roberto Firmino are among the play­ers set to adopt the boot next sea­son.

But even the best player can­not hope to bet­ter the lab’s most strik­ing fea­ture: an au­to­mated fly­wheel with an ar­ti­fi­cial foot dubbed ‘Robo­leg’. Ca­pa­ble of kick­ing balls at up to 100mph (25mph faster than a pro player), it en­sures per­fect, repli­ca­ble shots. In other words, if Op­ti­mus Prime played foot­ball, this is what his goals would look like. Robo­leg is hooked up to 16 Hawk-eye cam­eras in or­der to mea­sure the speed and spin rate of shots, en­abling re­searchers to test the per­for­mance of both boots and balls. Which isn’t to say hu­man op­po­nents don’t try their luck. Hagel re­counts with glee watch­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich’s goal­keeper, Manuel Neuer, test his gloves against the ma­chine on a re­cent visit. By all ac­counts, Robo­leg held its own.

With all of this new kit to play with, the staff’s Wed­nes­day evening five-a-side matches are in­vari­ably in­ter­est­ing, with play­ers able to take their pick of wacky pro­to­types fresh from the lab, as well as tried and tested favourites. But de­spite all of the state- of-the-art tech­nol­ogy avail­able, the Fu­ture Lab sci­en­tists still can­not pre­dict where new in­spi­ra­tion will come from. “You can­not plan in­no­va­tion,” says Rolshoven, ges­tur­ing around the lab. “That is why this place is set up like a play­ground. We play hard and try to turn in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties into some­thing new.”

Your own of­fice may not have a vol­ley­ball court, or some of the best ath­letes in the world stop­ping by on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. But the lab team’s ap­proach can be adapted to in­fin­itely im­prove cre­ativ­ity in any arena.

“We ap­proach our work as though there are no bound­aries,” Rolshoven says as our tour comes to an end. “Of­ten, it is when we break out and do some­thing dif­fer­ent that the magic hap­pens.” And should that fail, as innovators across the globe have shown, re­turn to the draw­ing board enough times, and some­thing spec­tac­u­lar is cer­tain to emerge.

“This place is set up like a play­ground. We play hard”








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