01 Feb LTA partners with tech startup to tackle pain in fitness training | Jamie Murray invests in AI-powered device that improves muscle strength
SujiBFR, a UK-based health and fitness startup, has partnered with the LTA, the national governing body for tennis in Great Britain, to incorporate its AI-powered fitness device into player training programmes. The technology, named Suji Device, can reduce pain and improve muscle strength, offering a solution to both fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes who experience pain during exercise or when playing sport.
The partnership with the LTA – the first of its kind with a national governing body – will support athlete welfare by helping to reduce soreness and improve muscular performance, especially critical when returning to the sport after injury.
The deal continues the LTA’s drive to move tennis forward through innovation, and forms part of a wider LTA performance strategy to use advanced athlete technology to support elite players both when training at home and when competing on tour.
As well as assigning Suji Devices to players on tour, the LTA will also make the device one of a number of technologies available at its National Tennis Centre, for players supported through the governing body’s Elite, Pro Scholarship and Men’s & Women’s Programmes.
The partnership is the latest success for the startup, whose recent six-figure investment included backing from seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion Jamie Murray and his partner Alejandra Murray.
Based on blood flow restriction (BFR) training principles, in which blood flow to muscles is partially restricted during exercise, the training device utilises low-intensity and bodyweight exercise to offer training benefits equivalent to high-intensity weight training. The technique is designed to strengthen muscles, tendons and bones and can offer benefits to the cardiovascular system.
The AI-powered device adapts to a user’s body and fitness level, meaning it can be used by elite athletes as well as amateur sportspeople, fitness enthusiasts and those who are starting out on their fitness journey.
SujiBFR’s founder, Alexander Birks, set up the company after a successful career in boxing.
He said: “The idea for SujiBFR grew out of my own experience recovering from a traumatic sports injury. I felt frustrated by the length of time it would take to return to peak performance and started looking for fitness solutions that could help. After reaching out to sports professionals, I realised that BFR training was recognised as a powerful tool for mitigating pain and facilitating muscular improvements using low-intensity exercise. My own BFR training was successful, but it also demonstrated that existing equipment was inadequate, requiring extensive user knowledge and offering a poor user experience.
“I created SujiBFR to fill that gap and make effective and safe BFR training accessible to everyone, not only the professionals but the huge number of fitness enthusiasts who could benefit from this technology. The device can be used by anyone to help reduce pain and improve muscular performance.
“Users have reported improvements in muscle strength of up to 31% as well as reductions in joint and muscle soreness by 7 points out of 10. The connected app safely guides users through set-up and use while their progress is logged after each training session.”
Gyms and sports centres have been among the businesses forced to close over the last year due to national lockdowns prompted by COVID-19. As a result, many people have turned to at-home exercise programmes to maintain fitness levels. Suji Device can support users to reduce pain and improve muscle strength at home, without the need for gym equipment, whilst enabling them to track their progress thanks to the connected app.
It is the latest innovation in the ‘quantified self’ movement, in which consumers use personalised technology to monitor their health and fitness, acting as their own personal trainer.
Dan Lewindon, Head of Performance Science & Medicine at the LTA, said: “We are very pleased to be working with SujiBFR and this partnership is further evidence of our drive to embrace technology to better support and empower our players, coaches and practitioners throughout the LTA Player Pathway. Blood flow restriction training is proven to have benefits for both elite and recreational sportspeople in maintaining strength, accelerating return from certain injuries and even managing pain, so this is an exciting partnership for us both from a Performance and Membership perspective.
“The portability of this system is a crucial element for professional tennis players who spend many months of the year on the road at venues with variable access to gym equipment and facilities. This system will provide us with an effective solution to support and develop players’ strength in any environment.”
The LTA is the latest in a series of high-profile organisations that have adopted Suji Device, which is already used to support training and injury recovery at English National Ballet, Edinburgh Rugby and Loughborough University.
Suji Device is comprised of two cuffs that wrap around the upper portion of an upper or lower limb and a Bluetooth-enabled pump controlled via a mobile app. Using proprietary AI, the device prescribes exercises suitable for each user’s body and fitness level, inflating the cuffs to partially restrict blood flow. During set-up, a medical survey is completed that ensures the technique is safe for the individual. The app then creates a highly personalised set of low-load or bodyweight exercises from which to choose.
The amount of blood flow restriction is determined by what is safe for the specific user. Consequently, the device can be used by amateur fitness enthusiasts at home as well as professional athletes as part of full-time training regimes.
Tennis champion and SujiBFR investor Jamie Murray believes the system could benefit athletes at every level. He said:
“Everyone is aware of the challenges of avoiding and overcoming injury, not to mention the joint and muscle pain that can be experienced during training. SujiBFR has taken the scientifically proven benefits of BFR and incorporated these into a device that is easy to use, safe and effective. For me, Suji Device also acts as an effective tool when I’m on the road with limited access to gym equipment.
“It’s a perfect example of how investment in new solutions can help athletes to reduce pain, optimise performance and recover after injury.”
As part of the partnership, the LTA will also utilise content from SujiBFR in its new membership platform, Advantage.
In a recent investment round led by BioCity Group, the Murrays invested in SujiBFR alongside Scottish Enterprise, Gabriel Investment Syndicate and Creator Fund. SujiBFR was represented by Addleshaw Goddard LLP.