Power Signatures of the Rotary Athlete

05 Jan Power Signatures of the Rotary Athlete

It is the goal of most every golfer, pitcher, hitter, or any rotary based athlete for that matter to swing faster, throw harder, or generate more bat speed. It is basically a fact the greater amounts of speed these athletes generate the propensity for success increases. For example, a study a number of years back by the Titleist Performance Institute found the only statistic measured on the PGA Tour equating to increased earnings was driving distance. No other statistic from greens in regulation to scrambling equated to more money earned. If we shift gears to Major League Baseball pitching velocity is unequivocally a major talent evaluating component. And finally, looking at data being gathered on hitters at the professional level a great deal of attention is being paid to exit velocity.  We know speed is the “king” of these athletes, and the number one goal outside of injury prevention for these individuals is increasing speed. I will quote a colleague in mine Lance Gill who stated “in the 20 plus years I have worked in professional golf, I have never had someone ask me how to hit it shorter.”

The first step in the process of addressing speed development in rotary based athletes is to determine what constitutes an efficient throwing, swinging, or pitching motion which has the potential to generate speed. This is where technology, diagnostic tools, and sports science are becoming a prevalent component of professional sports. A paradigm shift has occurred over the past decade where athletes, organizations, and coaches are now using diagnostics tools to measure, analyze, and utilize scientific based models to develop and improve the rotary based athlete. The process of subjective analysis is becoming less in these sports and science more prevalent which is a benefit to all individuals involved in the process.

Recognizing this paradigm shift to sports science in these sports, the goals of the rotary based athlete, and the need to determine how an athlete generates speed, attention  has shifted to the scientific models, biomechanics, and athletic signatures which constitute the guidelines to evaluate and determine the processes by which we can increase speed (i.e. power). First and foremost we must understand how the body generates speed within these rotary based athletes.

We know pitchers do not just generate velocity with their throwing arm, golfers need more than a wrist hinge to increase clubhead speed, and it is more than just how fast the hips are rotating for the hitter. The process supported by science on how these athletes generate speed occurs via a process involving what is termed kinetic energy links. The initiation of speed development for these athletes is from the ground up. Ground reaction forces begin the process of energy being developed which is then transferred up through the body via a kinetic energy chain into the bat, ball, or club. These athletes at some point within the athletic actions of the sport will “push off from the ground”. This initial push begins the process of energy  development (i.e. speed) which is then transferred up through the kinetic energy chain of the body. The body via the motions (i.e. rotation of the hips, external rotation of the throwing arm, etc..) involved in throwing and hitting will add more and more energy to these initial ground reaction forces until this summation of energy is released into the bat, club, or ball.

Dr. Greg Rose co-founder of TPI Sports uses the “whip analogy” to describe this process. Think of a whip and how energy begins in the handle, is transferred through the length of the whip, and then finishes with a “crack” at the end of the whip. This is a very good visual example of how speed is transferred through the kinetic chain of the body and then released.

Now the above descriptions are very simplified explanations of the process of speed generation in the rotary athlete. Though the point to recognize is speed development begins from the feet, moves up through the body (kinetic chain) where additional speed is added from each segment of the body, and then all of this speed is transferred to the bat, ball, or club.

Once the we understand the basic concepts behind speed development in the rotary athlete, we can take the next step in determining the biomechanics which constitute the process of speed generation. Biomechanics in general incorporates the analysis of the athletic actions within a sport. The goals of the analysis are the minimization of injury and maximizing sports performance. Biomechanics incoprates both kinematics and kinetics to determine the processes by which anatomical, neuromuscular, physiological, and mechanical components can be integrated to support and excel the athlete’s performance.

Via the process of biomechanical analysis of the rotary athlete models have been developed, and we now know if an athletic pattern is either efficient or inefficient. An efficient athletic pattern of the rotary athlete will constitute maximum energy development with minimal physiological stresses upon the body. On the flip side, an inefficient biomechanical pattern will most likely limit the speed generation and place higher levels of stress on the neural muscular system of the body.

The summation of the biomechanical analysis of the throwing and hitting motion has provided a model of efficiency for these athletic actions. This model has been developed from data collected via 3D Motion Analysis and is termed the Kinematic Sequence. The Kinematic Sequence is the summation of data collected on 1000’s of athletic actions of the professional athlete. The contributors to this model are from a number of sources including ASMI in Birmingham, Biokinetics, AMM, and the Titleist Performance Institute.

The Kinematic Sequence is the model we measure the efficiency by which an athlete generates and transfers speed to the bat, ball, club, or racquet. This model allows us to now determine the true measurement of efficient throwing, hitting, and swinging athletic actions. What the kinematic sequence has provided coaches, trainers, and performance specialists a model which indicates all great hitters, pitchers, and golfers have a similar kinematic sequence in terms of speed generation and transfer. Regardless of visually what these athletes look like on video from a 3D perspective what they do is very similar.

What the coach, trainer, or performance specialist must recognize about the kinematic sequence is the following: There is an identical sequence of speed development and translation through the kinetic chain into bat, ball, or club. The sequence of this energy translation (think of the “whip analogy”) is the lower body starts the process (ground reaction forces), the energy is transferred into the thorax (core/torso) where additional energy is added, the energy is then transferred to the arms, and then is released into the bat, ball, club, or racquet.

In addition to the sequence of energy translation, each segment within the kinetic chain adds energy up the body until it is released. Finally, the deceleration of each segment is important after energy is transferred up the chain. For example, it is very important for the thorax to decelerate after energy translation has occurred for the motion to be efficient. If the thorax does not slow down we might see a drifting of the upper body in a hitter or potentially a slide by the golfer athlete. In addition the amount of speed will be less than optimal as a result of the inefficient transfer of energy to the next segment due to poor deceleration.

Review the Kinematic Sequence Graphs below of both the golfer and baseball athlete. In each of the graphs you will see an acceleration and deceleration of each body segment. Also note how each line of the graph peaks higher until impact or contact is made with the baseball or golf ball, this is the summation of forces into impact.

 

Baseball Hitting Kinematic Sequence

Golf Swing Kinematic Sequence

Both of these examples are of efficient kinematic sequences from rotary athletes. These two graphs indicate a very efficient movement pattern, speed translation, acceleration, and deceleration within the kinetic chain. In addition the kinematic sequence provides insight into what I like to call “power signatures”. Power signatures are biomechanical movement patterns associated with high levels of speed generation in the rotary athlete . Via the data base collected by TPI Sports specific captured with 3D Motion Analysis are consistently equated to high levels of power productions within these athletes. Keep in mind these power signatures may not be evident with video capture. As Dr. Greg Rose states “Video Analysis is like an X-ray, where 3-D technology is like an MRI. 3-D is the only way to accurately measure if a swing is efficient.”

The most important Power Signatures for the rotary athlete is first and foremost sequence. Sequence meaning the translation of energy up through the kinetic chain occurs in the correct order. The peaking order should be as follows: 1- Pelvis (Lower Body) 2 – Thorax (Torso) 3 – Composite Arm (Lead Arm) 4 – Club, Bat, Racquet. The first Power Signature to look for is this order stated above. The golfer image of the Kinematic Sequence below should give you a good visual of this basic component of a Power Signature.

 

A second Power Signature to look for in the Kinematic Sequence is kinetic chain segment acceleration and deceleration. If you recall discussion earlier within this article speed starts from the ground up. Ground reaction forces initiate speed development. This initial speed moves up through the legs and pelvis where more speed is added. After moving through the lower body, this speed is transferred to the thorax (i.e. torso). The torso “grabs” this speed and then adds onto it. This culmination of speed is then transferred to the composite arm (lead arm/throwing arm) where even more speed is added. Finally all of this speed which has been accumulated is dispersed into the bat, ball, club, or racquet.

The Kinematic Sequence will plainly show if the above scenario of speed translation is occurring efficiently. As stated previously there are two components to this concept. Component number one is the acceleration of each segment in the chain. Component number two is the deceleration of each segment in the chain. Think about it, in order for maximum speed to be transferred from the lower body to torso, the lower body first accelerates, after completing acceleration, the energy is transferred to the thorax, and then the lower body must decelerate. If the lower body does not decelerate optimal speed translation is not occurring as some of this energy is still in the lower body. The second power signature to look for in the Kinematic Sequence is efficient segment acceleration and deceleration.

How can we see this Power Signature?

I like to refer to efficient segment acceleration and deceleration should like to “ski slopes”. You go up one side of the mountain (acceleration) and down (deceleration) the other side of the mountain. Going up the mountain is the segment accelerating, the other side of the mountain is deceleration. Take a look at the examples below. In example number one you will see nice ski slopes in order. Each mountain has a nice peak to it. In the second example we do not see nice ski slopes, rather plateaus and bumpy hills are the visual.

Efficient Kinematic Sequence

“Nice Ski Slopes”

Inefficient Kinematic Sequence

“Bad Ski Slopes – Red Hill, Green Hill, Blue Hill”

 

A third common Power Signature of the rotary athlete requires the review of some additional graphs associated with the 3D Motion Analysis Reports. The Kinematic Sequence is always the first and your “go to” graph in regards to 3D analysis, though additional graphs are presented in such reports. Once such graph is spine rotation. Spine rotation is a reference to the amount of rotation which occurs between the pelvis and thorax. The golfing world will term spine rotation as “X-Factor”, the sport of baseball will typically refer to this component as separation. Spine Rotation measures the degree of transverse angular difference between basically your hips and shoulders. This is an important component to speed development because the separation creates a situation of stored potential energy which is then released. I like to refer to this as a “rubber band” effect. If you break it down and hypothetically the hips and shoulders are moving at the same time in a rotational pattern will any torque be developed?

The answer is quite simply “no”. Reviewing a 3D Motion Analysis report of the Spine Rotation Power Signature is a defined separation of the pelvis and thorax. This is viewed in a very sloping Spine Rotation graph. Take a look at the example below for a visual.

Spine Rotation

We have discussed the kinematic sequence, benefits of 3D Motion Analysis, and 3 key Power Signatures of the rotary athlete. Additional power signatures certainly do exists and can be defined via this technology. Key points to recognize are a model of efficiency exists for speed development within the rotary athlete, efficient sequencing is the baseline for speed development and segment acceleration/deceleration is a extremely important component of this process. Recognize the shift occurring in sport with the use of diagnostic tools to utilize a scientific based process for athlete development.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 12 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success.  He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renown Titleist Performance Institute.

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