Force Plate – The Gold Standard
Jump mats have gained popularity due to their relatively low cost and portability compared to the industry standard force plate. Used primarily to assess standing vertical jumps and drop vertical jumps, both reveal valuable data about how an athlete puts force into the ground. This information is then used to design/modify the athlete’s training program based on the needs of their sport.
With such a significant difference in cost and size, what are the pros and cons of each? If the jump mat gives the same information, why would you invest in a force plate? Because it does NOT give the same information…or even all the information.
What are the Differences?
Measurements: The jump mat measures vertical ground reaction forces – so only the forces that contribute to up/down movement. The force plate measures vertical, lateral, and anterior/posterior ground reaction forces – this includes forces that the athlete uses for balance, stability, and directional changes in movement. This is especially applicable to athletes that change direction in their sport…. which is the majority of sports. This limits what the jump mat can measure to only vertical impacts from a vertical starting position – either standing or a straight drop down. The force plate can measure any and all directions of impact. This provides crucial insight to how the athlete controls their body and distributes force in all directions.
Accuracy: The jump mat and the force plate have been shown to both have a linear correlation, meaning that they measure changes in force equally. However, there is a significant difference is the actual values. The jump mat has been shown to be off by as much as 17% in ground contact time, which in turn will impact additional calculations such as impulse, rate of force development, and jump height. The accuracy decreased further when the movement speed increased (i.e. a slow standing vertical jump versus a fast drop vertical jump).
Which Do You Need?
For coaches that a) understand how to analyze vertical force data, and b) are looking to measure slow standing vertical jumps only, a jump mat would be an ideal and cost-effective solution. Keeping in mind that precise accuracy will suffer with your faster moving athletes. But for coaches and trainers looking for information beyond that scope, a force plate is the gold standard and the best option to gather all information with superior accuracy and reliability.
Rogan S, Radlinger L, Imhasly C, Kneubuehler A, Hilfiker R. Validity Study of a Jump Mat Compared to the Reference Standard Force Plate. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;6(4):e25561.
Kenny IC, O’Caireallain A, Comyns TM. Validation of an electronic jump mat to assess stretch-shortening cycle function. J of Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(6):1601-8.