- On April 13, 2017
Unless you are an avid fan of Biomechanics, you may have missed that last week was National Biomechanics Day! This day, in its second year, was created by Dr Paul DeVita as means to raise awareness and appreciation of Biomechanics around the world. As Fusion Sport’s resident Biomechanist, I thought I would join the fun! This post will explore what Biomechanics is and how it is used in various sporting endeavours.
What is Biomechanics?
While most people I talk to have a general idea about what biomechanics entails, their interest is usually cursory. The goal of National Biomechanics Day is to make biomechanics more accessible. So, without delving too deeply, what is it?
Broadly, by definition, “biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems by means of the methods of mechanics”1. In general, the field borrows from various areas such as classical mechanics, physiology, engineering and robotics to understand how humans (or animals!) move. Because of this, it has many different uses in everyday life.
Figure 2: A plate from Borelli’s analysis of various joints in man
Since these early days, the technology that biomechanists typically use has progressed significantly. Photography and video analysis allowed Biomechanists to accurately measure things like joint angles during various movements. This advanced to 3D motion capture which allowed Biomechanists to measure the position of various body segments in 3-dimensional space and recreate those movements using a biomechanical model (Figure 3). Force plates embedded into the ground, or in various devices such as bike pedals, treadmills or starting blocks furthered the biomechanists ability to understand how the body was generating movement.
Figure 3: A biomechanical model showing both skeletal and muscular movements during a cricket bowling action
Applications in Sport
Given the broad range of fields that biomechanists typically cover, the types of problems studied by biomechanists are very diverse.
On of the more common areas for biomechanists to work is in sprint analysis. A classic study by Nobel Prize Laureate, Physiologist A.V Hill, described the broad biomechanics of college sprinters4 (Figure 4). Since then, with advancements in video technologies, this type of analysis is now performed with 3D motion capture systems, embedded tracks and sophisticated Biomechanical models. As we blogged about recently, these models are being rapidly simplified and improved.
Figure 4: A.V Hill performing an experiment into measuring Sprint Performance. Scientific contributions of A. V. Hill: exercise physiology pioneer Journal of Applied Physiology Nov 2002, 93 (5) 1567-1582
Another common role of a Biomechanist is to help to prevent or understand injury mechanisms. Using biomechanical models, we can measure things such as the contribution joint forces, asymmetries or problems in technique. In the above ESPN Sports Science video, researchers from UCL discuss how certain techniques in pitching lead to larger joint forces at the elbow joint than others. Being able to identify those athletes who are at risk through biomechanical analysis is a key approach in preventing these injuries through technique improvement.
Perhaps some of the more interesting sports biomechanics work comes from sports you least expect! Some less well-known sports are using motion analysis to better understand key movements in those sports largely due to those movements being relatively unique. Below is a great video about how Biomechanists from the University of Delaware are are using 3D motion capture to properly describe Thai boxing movements and how they can be improved using this type of analysis.
Biomechanics is a vital tool for any sports science team. While it can be complex, advancements in technology are making it much more accessible while campaigns such as National Biomechanics Day are increasing the visibility of it as a discipline within sports medicine and science.
Did you celebrate National Biomechanics Day this year? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and as always, any questions, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hatze, Herbert (1974). “The meaning of the term biomechanics”. Journal of Biomechanics. 7 (12): 189–190. doi:10.1016/0021-9290(74)90060-8.
- Hall, S (1991). Basic biomechanics. Mosby Incorporated.
- Pope MH (2005). Giovanni Alfonso Borelli—The Father of Biomechanics. Spine 30, 2350–2355.
- Bassett DR (2002). Scientific contributions of A. V. Hill: exercise physiology pioneer.
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