Chess is more than a game. For many, it’s a sport. A chess grandmaster is said to burn six to seven thousand calories per day during a tournament. That’s more than you’d burn playing golf. Demanding a cool head and strategic approach while producing a rush of adrenaline, the key to success in chess is to always be at least one step ahead of the game.

A grandmaster of chess can calculate seven or even eight steps ahead in their mind before they decide for the best move. There are so many possibilities, especially in early stages of the game. A game can have a billion possible outcomes. The dilemma is: You can’t physically try them all out and see what will happen. You must visualize and calculate the most promising options in your head.

Blonde woman drawing on a digital sketchpad in an office, employee, design, adidas, work, creativity, digital
Embracing new technologies for digital testing is changing the game in many ways.

The same challenge applies to our product development process in adidas. We’re always trying out new ways to innovate performance products, ultimately enabling our athletes to be at their best.

Applying the science of chess to innovative sport performance

Digital simulation of a shoe, digital, technology, design, adidas, sports, running
Digitally testing the stiffness of the metatarsal (forefoot) area of our adizero Pro running shoes.

Like in chess, with each new performance product we develop – such as a marathon running shoe – we have unlimited directions from which to choose. In an industry where innovation is king, we need to decide which technology, material or geometry will be the best to create the highest performing product for our athletes – and we need to test them. For our fastest and most innovative running shoes like the adizero adios Pro, we explored the best combination of stiffening elements and responsive foams by testing the bending stiffness at every section and the cushioning values in the rear and forefoot. Each decision directly impacted the end result.

The challenge we have is that our development cycles are tight. Trying out all possible combinations with physical samples would blow our timelines, manufacturing costs and go against our sustainability goals. Thinking our options through mentally? Our brains can’t possibly perform such complex equations.

So, how can we visualize the best possible product in the same way as a grandmaster in an effective and efficient way?

We validate our product ideas with digital product testing. This helps us to work quickly by conducting our tests virtually, before testing the advanced options physically.

Combining this digital testing with our human evaluation, we can approve, revise, and improve a product without any real sample in hand, and in hours or days rather than weeks. Saving time, ensuring accurate results and at the same time operating in a more sustainable way with significantly fewer physical samples. This may not sound like much, but when you consider material and shipping demands, this isn’t insignificant.

Asian woman stretching out leg before sports session, adidas, Olympics, athlete, sports, sport
Product innovation would be nothing without testing.

Key to optimizing performance: Think like a chess grandmaster

Currently, we’re leveraging digital testing to develop the newest versions of our football products for the upcoming World Cup 2022, as well as the latest running shoe innovations made for our athletes to push boundaries and own their game.

The role of Digital Testing in adidas increases every season. In the future, it will be possible to evaluate most of our products digitally first. This is not just a win for sustainability, it also puts us one, two, maybe eight steps ahead of the game before we intensify our testing with athletes on the field.

We will see more and more product innovations in football, basketball, outdoor sport, training and so on, carrying the thumbprint of Digital Testing: Performance products calculated and optimized by computers. It’s almost as if billions of chess grandmasters would have worked on them.


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