August 31, 2021

Form Follows Movement

In his search for the latest innovations and like-minded peers, zai's Benedikt meets interesting people with extraordinary ideas.

Form Follows Movement

In his search for the latest innovations and like-minded peers, zai's Benedikt meets interesting people with extraordinary ideas. In January 2023, he met with Jan Urfer and tested his innovative fitness device. Sensopro was named company of the year by the fitness magazine Fitness Tribune. The same year, NBA star Kevin Durant bought a Sensopro Luna for his rehab. And Daniel Craig trained with it on the film set of James Bond. Follow this conversation about exercise and movement.

Benedikt: Jan, you were a ski racer; today, you produce equipment with your partners that promote fitness, body perception, and mobility. If you pay attention, there are more and more Sensopro in the gym or rehab. Here's my question: Who is the Sensopro person? Are they athletes, top athletes, or even non-athletes? And what can the machines do that others can't?

Jan: In general, we want to build a machine that helps people to develop and maintain a healthy, well-coordinated musculoskeletal system. And that is for young, old, hobby sportswomen or professionals. In everyday life, we make surprisingly few movements compared to our possibilities. We hardly use the variety of movement patterns available to us. As a result, we lose performance capabilities. By training with the equipment, we can regain them.

Benedikt: Yes, I'm just thinking about everyday work.

Jan: With just a few minutes on the equipment, we take people away from the table, from the car, from the workbench. We let them experience movements that amaze them, make them feel good, and train them to move in various ways.

Benedikt: How does that happen?

Jan: We stimulate motor memory. We want to remember what responding openly to impulses and gravity in different situations means.

Benedikt: What must I do, and how does it work?

Jan: You can answer that yourself right away. How did it feel? Why were you bobbing, laughing, sweating?

Benedikt: Well, I was surprised what happened to me. I get into the device with two rubber bands attached instead of a straight surface. I stand up straight without holding on - which is not easy, and it goes clack, clack in my knees, and click, click in my spine, and I find my balance right away. ... at least for a moment, until I switch from two to one band as if I were a tightrope walker. The bands are much wider than a rope, yet it is not easy to stand, bend the knees, or teeter. When I step down from the apparatus now, I am amazed at how the world feels. It's like I'm newly grounded. Out of curiosity, you use a surface that I can't experience anywhere else - how can that help me in my everyday life?

Jan: That is the challenge. We remove the familiar element of solid ground to restore your symmetry. It may sound strange, but the body must face the challenge of standing on swaying ground. The body must deal with an unknown surface and realign itself.

Benedikt: But on the skis, the tartan track, or the tennis court, I am on more or less solid ground. Can I transfer what I have learned? From the wobbly to the stable?

Jan: We challenge the musculoskeletal system by changing a familiar situation and making it more difficult. That sharpens the nervous system. Because if we sit all day and don't move from place to place, we impoverish ourselves sensorimotorly. The movement in our equipment opens up a game with gravity.

Benedikt: At this point, we are related. At zai, we do nothing but create instruments that expand your freedom of movement. By exploring your line on the mountain, various movement patterns open up. You can control a good ski with minimal changes in movement. It's not about power; it's about playing with the center of gravity and dynamics.

Jan: I can sympathize with you. There are many parallels between zai skiing and training on Sensopro equipment, even if the function is different. We offer therapy and training. On the slopes, the goal is much more differentiated; for example, you don't have to bend and stretch your knees over the full range of motion at all costs. But what connects us is searching and finding movements outside the known. That's the only way we can increase our radius of movement.

Benedikt: Expanding the radii, exploring new freedoms. There's something pleasurable about letting myself be guided by the skis and influencing the line with just a few movements - playing with the terrain. I imagine it like the flight of an alpine chough in the air.

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