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How is Biomechanical Analysis Done?

how to perform a biomechanical analysis

What is Biomechanical Analysis?

The principles of biomechanics can be used to improve both health- and skill-related fitness. They explain how the body moves and suggest ways to alter and improve those movements to prevent and reduce injury, enhance skills such as coordination and balance, and improve performance.

A biomechanical analysis of activity can identify the specific muscle groups whose strength, power, endurance, or flexibility limits performance.  Specific exercises can then be chosen that strengthen or stretch these specific muscle groups.

Likewise, a biomechanical analysis of an exercise can identify if the muscles used in the exercise are those used in the sport or activity.  The purpose of the qualitative anatomical analysis is to determine the principal muscular activity during specific phases of performance and to identify instants when large stresses may occur due to large muscle forces or extremes in joint ranges of motion.

You may complete such an analysis on a client who demonstrates the effective technique.  The analysis of the elite performance identifies which muscles are involved in the performance of the most effective technique with the analysis of the novice identifies the muscles used in performing the specific technique. In either case, the methods used to identify the muscles involved are the same.  Methodologies to determine muscle activity include palpation, participation, EMG, video analysis, and the most common visual analysis.

Types of Biomechanical Analysis

If the performance or any of its aspects is quantified or measured (described with numbers), the resulting analysis based on these measurements is a quantitative biomechanical analysis.

If the performance or any of its aspects is evaluated using only the senses of the observer, the resulting analysis is a qualitative biomechanical analysis.

Quantitative Analysis

Comprehensive quantitative biomechanical analyses are usually limited to performances by elite athletes. Trainers and coaches may make some performance measurements and thus do limited quantitative biomechanical analyses.

Simple quantitative analysis methods include direct numerical measurements i.e. tape measurement, weight measurement, stopwatch, maximum lifting or 1RM.  Additional methods include video analysis systems to measure joint angles, lines of force, and limb positions as well as accelerometers to measure linear velocity, acceleration, and power output for specific movements (an example of this is the Tendo Unit®). This manual includes diagrams and pictures taken from Dartfish® to reinforce specific concepts.

A comprehensive quantitative biomechanical analysis requires specialized and expensive equipment for recording and measuring the biomechanical variables of interest. Biomechanists or trained technicians, rather than trainers or coaches, usually conduct comprehensive biomechanical analysis but this should not inhibit trainers and coaches from utilizing this type of technology for monitoring progress/periodic testing and becoming more knowledgeable in the technical aspect of movement analysis. This equipment may be very cost-prohibitive for most coaches/trainers, however many of these tools are being developed by numerous companies therefore the cost is decreasing accordingly but still may be limited in scope.

A quantitative analysis using the above-listed equipment is usually limited to elite-level athletes/competitors.  Elite participants use this type of analysis to identify small technique errors in mechanics difficult to observe (video analysis, as well as all additional equipment,  helps identify flaws that inhibit maximum performance capabilities). Phones/Ipads now have the capability to downloadable software to observe/analyze movements from numerous sources, however, coaches/trainers must learn to visually pinpoint movement flaws to enhance analytical abilities.  Once coaches/trainers learn this important skill then the use of “high-tech” quantitative analysis can further enhance their coaching abilities.  It must be stated novice coaches may use this type of analysis to reinforce their coaching knowledge to athletes who need additional reinforcement i.e. a “second” eye from the video along with any additional equipment with supporting data.

Qualitative Analysis

This type of analysis is the most commonly used.  Comparative Descriptors used with qualitative analysis include the terms faster, higher, slower, longer, harder, etc. The fields that use this type of analysis include any type of applied science, coaching of sports, fitness, and physical education. As previously stated coaches must be able to visually identify flaws in technique with all lifters; however it is not uncommon for coaches to have analysis software on cell phones in today’s training environment.  This type of tool can be useful to reinforce a “cue” made to any lifter performing a movement. Nevertheless, a coach must be able to identify technique flaws early on in a lifter’s training, particularly with novices.

Steps of a Qualitative Biomechanical Analysis

A variety of procedures for conducting qualitative biomechanical analyses exist. The method presented here is not novel, but it
includes procedures common to existing methods and provides a systematic way of biomechanically analyzing human movements. A qualitative biomechanical analysis to improve technique involves four steps:

1. Description: Develop a theoretical model of the most effective technique and describe what it would look like. Determine what you want to see when you observe your clients.

2. Observation: Observe the performance of your client to determine what that person’s technique actually looks like.

3. Evaluation: Compare the individualized ideal technique to the observed performance. Identify and evaluate the errors.

4. Instruction: Educate the client by providing feedback and the instruction necessary to correct those errors.

We focus on both the movement (kinematics) and the forces that cause the movement (kinetics). As a coach or personal trainer, you must take into account the structure of the body (specifically, the anatomy of the joints first and the body type), its intended function, and the goal of the exercise. The need to understand the ideal movement and instruct accordingly is imperative with the goal being that the trainee performs every movement as close to the ideal technique (which may be unique to them) in order to maximize performance and to minimize Injury.

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Understanding biomechanics, human movement, and joint function give you skills that quickly make you a high-level fitness expert. When you become a Biomechanics Specialist, you will put yourself in the top 5% of trainers/coaches when it comes to knowledge of human movement.  Your clients will get far better results, and you will get more referrals.

Click here for a free in-depth video training on biomechanics and human movement.

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