Never Done Questioning
Department of Nike Archives
Learn how the origin of the Nike Sport Research Laboratory built the foundation for sport science innovation.
All our innovation starts with two words: what if?
What if … you could keep research and development in-house? What if … you had the ability to track and analyse an athlete's performance and then apply those learnings to the product? What if … you asked every question you could think of, all to uncover impossible answers?
In September 1980, we set out to answer these big questions.
We built the original Nike Sport Research Laboratory (NSRL) in a small warehouse in Exeter, New Hampshire, to have a place where we could work to answer our questions. But inside this "glorified shed", we explored big ideas. We staffed our team with physical trainers and podiatrists, but also aerospace engineers and biomechanics. We centred our research around athlete insights and needs, and with the opening of NSRL, we became the first in the industry to seriously invest in empirical research.
"Good research always leads to more questions"
—Nick Frank, Senior Lead Researcher
At the time we built NSRL, we were merely a running company. Creating our own research facility was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. We packed NSRL with state-of-the-art technology. We analysed the effect of different strides and gaits and foot strike patterns. We broke down every aspect of the run, tested every hypothesis and tried the wildest stuff we could dream up.
But for all these tests and enquiries and analyses, the secret sauce was utilising actual athletes to test on. And not just any athletes—we were fortunate enough to work with legends in the making. Future champion marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson helped Nike compile data through her own treadmill tests and product feedback.
Forty-plus years since the opening of the NSRL, we're still asking "What if?" but we're also asking how and why and when and who. We have always worked with our elite athletes, but more and more, we're working with everyday ones, too.
Matthew Nurse, vice president of the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab, says nearly 85% of the people who come through the lab are everyday athletes from different backgrounds with diverse body types. And our goal remains the same: helping people reach better, whatever that looks like for them.
Every year, we level up our research capabilities, adding the latest technology to capture and analyse athletes' performance data, including the world's largest motion-capture installation comprising 400 cameras, body-mapping equipment and more. In autumn 2020, NSRL even got a new name—the LeBron James Innovation Center—and a brand-new facility housed on our campus in Beaverton, Oregon.
With facilities like a full-size basketball court, 200-metre endurance track, a turf training pitch and environment chambers to mimic different climates, the NSRL gives professional and everyday athletes the opportunity to move naturally. This gives our researchers and designers the ability to test, prototype and experiment without boundaries. And that is what makes us so excited for the future.