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Movement Analysis and Biomechanics for Endurance Sports

by Developing Endurance
Kinetic Select May 2017

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Endurance sports are typically not thought of as highly technical endeavors, but proper movement during training and competition for endurance sports can affect both performance and health.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Endurance, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Movement Analysis and Biomechanics

Endurance sports are typically not thought of as highly technical endeavors (unlike sports such as golf, baseball, and tennis), but proper movement during training and competition for endurance sports can affect both performance and health. The study of biomechanics refers to analyzing human motion with regard to physics, kinematics, and mechanics.

Most endurance sport movements are repeated hundreds or thousands of times each training session. Therefore, proper mechanics are critical to an endurance athlete’s ability to optimize performance and avoid injury. Movement evaluation can be performed using a well-trained eye, video capture, a computer, or specialized biomechanics equipment—such as pressure sensors, force plates, and three-dimensional computer motion analysis programs (Figure 2.1).

Every endurance athlete has a unique physical build as well as strengths, weaknesses, and asymmetries that will dictate personal movement style; however, within each sport, some general movement patterns are more effective and are considered proper form. For example, during running, the foot should land nearly underneath the knee to reduce braking movement on each stride and to reduce the stress placed on the musculoskeletal system.

When cycling, the knee and foot should travel in a vertical path, overlapping one another when viewed from the front. This reduces stress on the knee joint. When swimming, proper mechanics will allow the athlete to move through the water more easily by producing less drag and will also reduce strain on the shoulder joint.

Coaches and athletes can learn to analyze motion by viewing performances of the proper form and mechanics within their sport. They can do this in person or by reviewing video. Keep in mind that the top athletes in a given sport do not always use optimal biomechanics and may be successful despite their technique. Variations from one athlete to another are normal, but coaches should be able to evaluate an athlete’s biomechanics and suggest drills and corrections that will help the athlete improve. Coaches often use video to record their athletes’ techniques.

Video analysis can be used to slow the body movements to a speed that allows viewers to discern small details that the unaided eye might not see. Coaches should review the video with their athletes to reinforce effective movement patterns and point out areas for improvement.

Athletes who do not have a personal coach can do much of this evaluation by themselves or with the help of a partner who can run the video camera or digital camera. Free or low-cost video analysis programs often come standard on a computer. However, more technical software packages such as Dartfish technology allow for more comprehensive video analysis (including synchronizing multiple camera views, drawing angles, and adding comments or written text on videos).

More sophisticated equipment such as pressure sensors and three-dimensional imaging systems may be available at specialized sports medicine facilities, medical facilities, universities, and other research institutions. These tools can be used by biomechanists and specially trained clinical staff to take a closer look at the movements an athlete is making.

Many endurance athletes and coaches overlook the use of biomechanical analysis as a tool for helping to modify or improve an athlete’s current mechanics. The typical thinking is that endurance athletes move the way that they naturally do and should just improve their fitness without worrying about poor mechanics. Although the differences in improved mechanics can be subtle, they are very effective in reducing injury and improving performance.

Movement analysis can also help determine the types of sport-specific and supplemental training, such as resistance training, that can improve performance. Proper analysis should include evaluation of the actual muscle groups being used (prime movers and stabilizers), the type of muscle action occurring (concentric, eccentric, isometric, or a combination of these), the velocity of contraction and movement, the range of motion of the joints, and the type of energy system used to deliver energy (immediate, short-term, or long-term energy system). All of these factors should be known before prescribing training and exercises meant to improve an individual’s capability and performance.

Figure 2.2 presents a worksheet that athletes can use to perform their own movement analysis. An athlete should complete this form periodically to monitor movement changes and adaptations that can occur with regular training. The best strategy is to complete the form every 4 to 8 weeks after completing similar workouts. The form is subjective and can be used for any sport or activity, but it works best for those activities that are repetitive—such as running, biking, and swimming.

From the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) comes this resource packed with more than 100 drills to help in the development of agility and quickness training programs. Applicable to almost every sport, Developing Agility and Quickness focuses on improving athletes’ fleetness of foot, change-of-direction speed, and reaction time. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online in the NSCA Store.

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