Sports Science and Motion Analysis Technology

14 Sep Sports Science and Motion Analysis Technology

There is a paradigm shift in the world of sports performance in this day and age. We are seeing the utilization of diagnostic tools to provide measurable information to improve the processes by which we train, coach, and teach athletes. Sport science is the terms being used to describe this process of shifting from a subjective means of sports performance training to a scientific based continuum where diagnostic tools such as force plates, motion analysis data capture systems, and science base assessments are the backbone by performance and injury prevention programming is now being developed. Utilizing the High Performance Management Model (HPM) professional sporting organizations are creating this shift by which sports science is directing the processes of player development, injury prevention, and talent identification.

The goals of these diagnostic tools and sports science is the following:  Stop injuries prior to happening, understand the demands of your sport from a scientific basis, address performance appropriately from a science based data pool, improve player development with cooperation between all departments and staff members, and create programming where the athlete development is the centerpiece. Let’s be honest at the highest level of sport a player’s availability and games missed due to injury are integral in terms of overall success. Utilizing a phrase from a colleague Dr. Rob Butler who is the director of sports science for the St. Louis Cardinals “The greatest ability a player can have is availability.” A very true statement and most likely the penultimate reason professional organizations are shifting to this HPM model. If you have ever looked at the disabled list of a MLB organization where millions of dollars of payroll sit, the reasoning becomes quite obvious.

As stated previously a myriad of diagnostic tools are being used in sports today. These include but are not limited too biometric monitoring, force plate analysis, Trackman, and Motion analysis. All of which are very valuable tools in the process of player development from a science based platform. One of which has been refined in the sport of golf and is now being introduced into additional rotary based sports such as baseball and tennis is motion analysis data capture. Motion analysis is simply the process by which the biomechanics of an athletic action is captured and analyzed. Now biomechanical analysis of athletic actions is not new. I remember being introduced to it for baseball in the mid 90’s via Dr. Tom House and his company Biokinetics. At that time the process of data capture of say the pitching motion, analyzing the data, and presenting the data was a process requiring a inordinate amount of time from start to finish. Fast forward 20 years and this process of data capture and analyzing has been streamlined and requires a minimal amount of time. Technology has advanced the data capture process as well where 15 years ago multiple cameras, a lab, and sensors were required to be placed on the athlete. Now the technology is portable, does not require a lab, and has a significant data base and models for comparative analysis. K-Vest is one such company where systems are available for data capture outside of a lab and provide instant biomechanical analysis.

Why did the sport of golf refine this technology? I would say golf has always been a very data driven sport due to club and ball development. Technology and the utilization of technology to advance the sport was always prevalent. Introducing a tool such as motion analysis to this continuum was readily accepted. As a result of these  reasons, the technology has been refined and we are now are seeing additional sports becoming accepting of a technology assisting in the advancement of the athletes. Before we explain how a sports medicine staff or strength and conditioning coach can utilize motion analysis system for the physical development of their athletes, let us provide a background summary of what motion analysis is and what scientific information is gathered from this diagnostic tool.

Motion analysis is the process by which the biomechanics of a human movement is captured. The process utilizes a series of sensors and captures human movement. This movement is captured in 3 dimensions and presents information in terms the translations of energy through the kinetic chain. Through this process of data capture, models of efficiencies in terms of the translation of energy in athletic actions have been developed. These models are now utilized to determine the efficiency or lack there of in terms of energy translation through the kinetic chain into bat, ball, racquet, or club. For example, in this day and age motion analysis has allowed us to analyze how efficiently a golfer generates speed into the impact position, what inefficiencies may be present in the throwing motion of a pitcher, and where a hitter may improve speed generation when hitting. It is a tool which allows the coach to now pinpoint areas where the pitcher, golfer, or tennis player needs to address mechanically to be more efficient. Additionally, this is a tool where a strength and conditioning coach can apply this information with additional screenings to pinpoint areas to address physically, and finally the sports medicine staff can use this information to address injury risk due to mechanical inefficiencies. All being said motion analysis is a very powerful tool which can be utilized across a number of platforms for player development and injury prevention.

It is obvious  the benefits motion analysis technology provides the hitting coach, swing coach, or tennis instructor in terms of areas to work on in terms of instruction. Additionally this tool is very valuable to the sports performance and sports medicine staffs of an organization. Utilizing a phrase from colleague Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute “Motion analysis tells us what is going on and physical assessments tell us why”. First and foremost we must recognize diagnostic tools utilized in sports science are most powerful when used collectively. One tool such as a force plate or a Motus sleeve will only provide one piece of the puzzle. As professionals we need the whole picture in order to successfully direct athletes and organizations. Motion analysis is very similar as the data provided will give us a picture of what is happening in terms of speed translation and whether this process is efficient of inefficient. That being said, we as coaches don’t know what the reasons are behind energy translation where inefficiencies are present.

Most athletes will have some inefficiencies in energy translation and we need to determine are these inefficiencies a result of physical dysfunctions or issues within the mechanics of the motion?

The answer to this question can not be completely answered via motion analysis, physical assessments are required to determine if the underlying issue is physical or mechanical. Physical assessments of the athlete will entail a movement assessment coupled with performance assessments. A common mistake is to implement performance testing only which will provide data on power development, anaerobic capacities, and force outputs. Performance testing gives us only one piece of the puzzle and leaves out essential components such as soft tissue extensibility, joint range of motion, and the stabilization capacities of the kinetic chain. These underlying components of mobility and stability are the back bone by which efficient movement patterns and energy translation occur. If the kinetic chain is lacking in these areas speed generation will surely be affected. It is imperative to get the whole picture from mobility to stability and on up the ladder to power outputs to know what needs to be addressed relative to the individual athlete.

Once your coaching, sports medicine, and performance staffs have the picture from a biomechanical and physical perspective, the development of a plan to improve performance, reduce the potential of injury, and increase athletic outputs can occur. This information gathered can also now be divided up and directed to the appropriate departments within the organization to address the individual needs of the athlete. Let us walk through an example to provide you an idea of how this process works and the benefits motion analysis technology provides coaches, medical professionals, and strength and conditioning professionals.



Above is a the motion analysis data capture of a golf swing. We review the graph and determine first and foremost if the sequencing is in the appropriate order. The correct order should be 1. Hips, 2. Shoulders, 3. Lead Arm, and 4. Club. The sequence in the above data capture is correct as we see the appropriate acceleration and deceleration of each body segment into the impact position. The second point to review is the quantity of segment acceleration and deceleration. The question to ask is how much speed is generated, efficiently transferred to the next segment in the chain, and how well does the segment decelerate?

A good picture is one where we see mountains with peaks, and not little hills. This is where in the above example we can begin to see some areas which may need attention. The sequencing of the above athlete is good and in the correct order, though the amount of speed generated by each segment could be improved. If I look at this graph I am seeing more “hills” than “mountains”. This is an indicator to me we have some area for improvement relative to speed development. Now the next question we need to ask is this a physical or mechanical issue?

Is the lack of speed generation from each segment in the kinetic chain a result of inefficiencies in the golf swing, a lack of strength, poor power production, or even a lack of joint mobility?

We will not have answers to these questions until we take this athlete through a comprehensive physical assessment. Once the assessment is complete and we have compiled the appropriate physical data, we can only then determine how to improve this athlete.

Hypothetically speaking if the physical assessment indicated a lack of hip mobility, poor lower body strength, and low rotational power outputs. We now have actionable data by which we can improve this golfer athlete. Secondly, we can take this information and begin having the appropriate individuals address these issues. The sports medicine professional can implement modalities to improve hip mobility, the strength coach can improve lower body force outputs and rotational power, and the swing coach can focus on maintaining the proper sequencing. Again, a hypothetical example of what may be going on with the golfer athlete and how information gathered from a motion analysis data capture can be utilized.

As stated previously a paradigm shift is occurring in sport where diagnostic tools and science are being utilized to move away from a subjective approach to player development and injury prevention. Many tools exist which can be utilized in this process. Motion analysis is one of these tools to assist in the improvement of the athlete and provide organizations a scientific approach to this process. Collectively these tools are best used as a group as the implementation of just one tool does not give you the entire picture. Recognize the power of these tools and know the entire organization from coaches to medical professionals can benefit from the utilization of sports science.