Powder good, cruciate ligament broken: Are you fit for the ski vacations?
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Powder good, cruciate ligament broken: Are you fit for the ski vacations?

Patrick Bardelli
Zurich, on 03.02.2022

Are you fit for the slopes? A Swiss company is using the latest robot technology, artificial intelligence and gamified workouts to offer a futuristic fitness test that aims to answer that question. I tried it out.

The contrast could not be greater. As I stand on Turbinenplatz in Zurich West, gray office buildings in front of me and a gray sky above me, my mind is already on skiing in the mountains. Surrounded by majestic peaks under a blue sky, I can see myself conjuring up perfect carving turns in the powdery snow in my mind's eye. But wait, am I even fit for the slopes? That's what I want to find out today. A computer-aided fitness test on a high-tech leg press awaits me. A reality check instead of wannabe Marco Odermatt fantasies.

Robot test in Züri West

The technology company Dynamic Devices AG, based in Zurich and Tokyo, has been developing products for the sports and health market under the brand name "ddrobotec" for twelve years. Meanwhile, the company has also expanded into Germany and operates showrooms in Bonn and Stuttgart. Its systems have also been used by members of the Swiss national ski team to make their quadriceps and hamstring fit for the World Cup.

Now, in cooperation with the Hirslanden Check-up Center in Zurich, the company is offering a robotic test and gamified workouts for amateur skiers. I complete the test on what is probably the most modern leg press currently available on the market. It includes, among other things, the measurement of movement control, quick and peak strength, reaction time and left/right symmetry.

Der Showroom von ddrobotec in Zürich: Hightech made in Switzerland.
Der Showroom von ddrobotec in Zürich: Hightech made in Switzerland.

From warm-up to evaluation in 50 minutes

Deficits in neuro-muscular control of the knee and hip and reduced quick strength are considered risk factors leading to lower extremity injuries. For example, during rapid movements with changes in direction, such as skiing. Or to put it more simply: many people do little or no sport throughout the year, but then really let it rip during the skiing vacations and end up crashing in hospital. 46,000 accidents a year on Swiss slopes result in medical treatment.

This does not have to be the case. The test in the run-up to the skiing vacations is intended to help correctly assess the performance of the lower body. And thus help to avoid serious accidents on the slopes as far as possible. I am accompanied by Laura Toivanen. The former biathlete and Olympic participant from Finland now works as a sports and prevention specialist at the Check-up Center Hirslanden Zurich.

Ehemalige Spitzensportlerin trifft Amateur: Laura Toivanen interpretiert eine der vielen Zahlen des Tests.
Ehemalige Spitzensportlerin trifft Amateur: Laura Toivanen interpretiert eine der vielen Zahlen des Tests.

The fitness test lasts about 50 minutes and starts with a warm-up. This is followed by various exercises on peak and rapid strength, reaction time and left/right symmetry. For dessert, Laura serves me some playful workouts in the form of exergames.

For example, I have to collect as many points as possible with a ball on a ski slope or dodge small monsters that come at me in increasingly rapid succession. The linking of physical and cognitive activity is really complex. In one exercise, I had to memorize series of numbers on the basis of dice and then collect them correctly. For example, first 1, then 2 and 6, then 4, 1, 5 and 3, and so on. It is said that people have already taken the test who have managed up to 15 rows of numbers, which become longer and longer. For me, the first error comes after only four.

Ten years of development for two inconspicuous tubes

What sounds a bit like Darth Vader at the end of the video is the heart of the high-tech leg press. These are drive elements that contract with air pressure. They behave like real muscles. The art lies in the perfect regulation of these soft robotic elements. This is a complex process that took ddrobotec around ten years to develop.

According to its own statements, the company has developed in recent years from a hardware developer into an all-round digitally oriented company. With a cyber-physical "platform ecosystem" at its core. This platform consists of the leg press with robotics, a user interface, various drills, functional tests, motivating exergames, cloud analytics software and a smartphone app.

Zehn Jahre Entwicklungsarbeit stecken in diesen zwei schwarzen Schläuchen: künstliche Muskeln im Inneren der Beinpresse. / Foto: Thomas Kunz
Zehn Jahre Entwicklungsarbeit stecken in diesen zwei schwarzen Schläuchen: künstliche Muskeln im Inneren der Beinpresse. / Foto: Thomas Kunz

Fit for the slopes, but ...

After just under an hour, I have completed the sometimes more, sometimes less demanding exercises and am curious about the results. After all, in my mind's eye I can still see myself making elegant carving turns in the snow during the skiing vacations. There it is again: the would-be Marco Odermatt fantasy. Time for reality. And it looks like this:

Viele Zahlen, ein Fazit: Fit für die Piste, aber Achtung mit dem linken Bein.
Viele Zahlen, ein Fazit: Fit für die Piste, aber Achtung mit dem linken Bein.

Overall, Laura Toivanen and the CEO of ddrobotec, Max Lungarella, who is also present, seem quite satisfied with my results. In three out of six exercises I achieved a good, plus once each a sufficient, a very good and an excellent. What grade would I give myself? Well, a 5.

Finally, Max gives me a tip for the road. He has noticed that my left leg, which has had knee surgery, is stronger than my right leg. But in terms of coordination, mobility and stability it is a little weaker. That's why I should be careful on the slopes if I have the feeling at the end of the day that I can add a few extra runs. This feeling can be deceptive. I could still feel fit, but my left leg would probably give out a little before the rest of my body. So rather too early than too late to après ski, then nothing should stand in the way of injury-free skiing vacations.

Max Lungarella analysiert die Daten des Fitnesstests.
Max Lungarella analysiert die Daten des Fitnesstests.

The ddrobotec fitness tests are still taking place until March 4. The robotic test, including professional support and analysis by Laura Toivanen from the Check-up Center Hirslanden, costs CHF 120. You can register here.

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