What Can the Strength and Conditioning Coach Learn from 3D Motion Analysis?

14 Nov What Can the Strength and Conditioning Coach Learn from 3D Motion Analysis?

The process of utilizing diagnostic tools by professional athletes, organizations, and sports performance coaches is in full swing. The driver behind the utilization of these diagnostic tools is the shifting from a subjective perspective of athlete development and injury prevention to one which is scientifically based. This process “moves the needle” in terms of we are no longer guessing what we as professionals need to do to keep our athletes healthy and improving to a process based on science, data, and research.

I like to use the phrase for those of you involved in baseball we are taking the concept of analytics and applying it to player development and injury prevention. If you are in the golf industry think of it as we are now using concepts of club technology and using this idea of measuring, collecting, research, and matching up a golfer athlete with not only the appropriate clubs but training to maximize their potential.

There are many facets to sports science and diagnostic tools available. Biometric measuring and force plate analysis are just a couple of tools being utilized with athletes in this area. Another very powerful tool is 3-Dimensional Motion Analysis. The name of the tool describes very much the science behind this tool. 3-Dimensional Motion Analysis is the process of capturing an athletic action in three dimensions via the usage of technology and analyzing this motion for information from energy translation, efficiency of speed translation, to mechanical deficiencies deterring from the athletic action.

My personal experience with Motion Analysis technology is with rotary athletes in the sports of baseball and golf. I was first introduced to the technology by Dr. Tom House and his company Biokinetics in the mid 1990s. Dr.Glenn Fleisig of Dr. Andrew’s American Sports Medicine Institute has been integral in the collection of data via motion analysis for the baseball athlete and I have found Dr. Greg Rose and the Titleist Performance Institute to have currently driven the technology to where it is today. At this point in time Motion Analysis technology and the data base behind this tool has provided the athlete community the most efficient process by which the rotary athlete can generate and transfer speed through the kinetic chain (i.e. body) into bat, racquet, golf club, baseball, or softball. The model by which the athlete will transfer speed through the body is termed the kinematic sequence.

The kinematic sequence is a very powerful model in that regardless of what an athlete looks likes, for example a pitcher who throws over the top or one which drops down, regardless of “pitching style”, we now can determine if these athletes are efficient or inefficient in the development and translation of energy into baseball. The same can be said for tennis players and golfers. What is remarkable when looking at baseball hitters, pitchers, or golfers is all the “greats” in their respective games have remarkably similar kinematic sequences of generating and transferring speed through their kinetic chains. Meaning if you compare baseball hitters such as Jeff Bagwell and Kevin Youkilis it would be difficulty to tell the difference in their kinematic sequences even though in 2 dimensional video these players look drastically different. The same could be said about Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk on the PGA Tour. Vastly different golf swings visually though very similar kinematic sequences.


Kinematic Sequence Golf Swing


Kinematic Sequence Baseball Swing


What we must recognize from the information presented by 3Dimensional Motion Analysis and the kinematic sequence is all great rotary athletes within their sports have very similar process of generating and translating energy into bat, racquet, club, or ball. These athletes all begin energy development in the lower body and then transfer this energy up through the body, and then release this energy into bat, ball, racquet or club. Finally, and this is where we can connect the “dots” between coaches, strength coaches, and medical professionals is for the opportunity to generate and translate energy through the kinetic chain their is a physical and mechanical component.

I like to use the phrase “you can’t coach an athlete out of poor hip mobility” to emphasize the physical foundation side of the kinematic sequence. Recognize in order to efficiently generate and transfer energy through the kinetic chain, your body must have the appropriate levels of joint mobility, soft tissue extensibility, segmental stabilization, muscular endurance, strength, and power. Basically, if your body is inflexible, lacks joint mobility, is not strong, and has poor stabilization capacities. How well do you think this body will generate and transfer speed?

Not too well would be the exact answer.

And this is where Motion Analysis and the kinematic sequence can be a very valuable tool to the strength and conditioning coach. The goal of the professional strength and conditioning coach is two-fold. Number one is to prevent injury and the second is to improve performance during competition. Now if we use the example of a position player in baseball and their kinematic sequence for hitting. We can scientifically observe how efficiently or inefficiently this  athlete generates speed. We can also  see how efficient or inefficient speed is transferred to the bat. We can observe the rotational velocities of the athlete. We can see the segmental acceleration and deceleration components of this athlete as well as segmental positioning. This will provide the strength and conditioning coach a large amount of data to determine how to assist in the development of this player and prevent potential injury.

Once a strength coach has the information provided by a kinematic sequence the next step in the process is determine why inefficiencies or errors are occurring in the kinematic sequence. Remember, their is a physical side of the equation in the execution of a proficient kinematic sequence. A physical foundation proficient in mobility, segmental stabilization, strength, and power must be present. The strength coach must now determine if physical dysfunctions are impeding the kinematic sequence.

The process of determining physical dysfunctions is via assessments. Assessments in terms of soft tissue extensibility, joint mobility, segmental stabilization, and power outputs of the kinetic chain. I like to say “If you are not assessing you are guessing.” Don’t guess and assess your athletes to determine any dysfunctions impeding performance and increasing the potential for injury.

Once the physical assessment process is complete, the strength coach will have additional information to determine how to develop the programming to assist this athlete in performance and injury prevention. I can not stress enough the importance of assessment as I see all to often programming implemented without assessment. This is a situation asking for trouble down the road.

A secondary benefit to the kinematic sequence as it pertains to the strength and conditioning coach is what we call “connecting the dots”. The development of a rotary athlete consists of a team approach. This team approach entails medical professionals, strength and conditioning coaches, and swing/hitting/pitching coaches. The hitting, pitching, and swing coaches focus on mechanics whereas the medical professionals  and strength coaches are addressing injury prevention and physical performance. Each of these individuals have an area of expertise to assist the athlete and working as a team with a scientific informational base allows each of them to address the needs of the athlete appropriately.

As I said before “you can’t coach a player out of poor hip mobility”. If a player has poor hip mobility limiting their ability to create rotational velocities in the swing. This will invariably affect their hitting motion. The hitting coach is not an expert in hip mobility and certainly can not teach a player to improve hip mobility. If the medical professional in conjunction with the strength coach improves this player’s hip mobility it will provide the hitting coach a better foundation to teach this player and potentially improve their production with less stress on body.

Basically, the kinematic sequence is a tool which can put all the members of an organization on the same page and allow them to work as a team to improve a player. You are no longer guessing on what to do with a player and why an injury is occurring. You are now using quantifiable research and a diagnostic tool to remove subjectivity with the end goal of improving the process of player development.

To summarize 3-D Motion Analysis is a very powerful tool which can be of great advantage to players, coaches, and medical professionals in the process of player development and injury prevention. This tool for the strength and conditioning coach removes subjectivity and provides them information on how to best program an athlete for long term success.