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The Role of Biomechanics in Fitness Programming

goal of biomechanics trainingBiomechanics enhance performance by utilizing mechanical principles to improve an individual’s technique, the equipment they use, and to modify specific training protocols that the coach or trainer implements to help an individual achieve their goals. Similarly, for injury prevention and rehabilitation, biomechanics is used to develop techniques that reduce the chance of injury as well as changes in equipment design that may reduce injury.

What is the goal of a coach or a personal fitness trainer? “Help trainees reach their goals in the most efficient, effective and safest way possible.”

Compare this statement with the goals of biomechanics – To reach goals (performance enhancement) in the most efficient, effective, and safest (injury prevention) way possible.

One of the primary goals of this chapter is to empower the coach or personal trainer with a solid foundation in biomechanics. Another is to introduce everyone to a new way of looking at exercise in general. This new perspective is:

Exercise is simply a mechanical stress placed on the body to which the body will adapt.

In order to understand this new perspective and its importance, one must be willing to accept several premises.

Premise #1

The primary physiological effects of exercise (both good and bad) are in direct response to the mechanical stress placed on the body.

Exercise can be seen as a mechanical stress (Force/Area), placed on the body where the body must accept forces from external sources and respond by creating the appropriate internal forces (from the muscles and connective tissue) to create the appropriate movement. The stimulus of these stressors (both externally and internally), stimulate the physiological adaptations within the body. These physiological adaptations may be structural (adaptations to connective tissue such as muscle, bone, and fascia) or functional (neuromuscular adaptations – i.e. motor learning).

Premise #2

In order to facilitate the proper adaptations for our trainees,  we have to understand forces, how they are applied (how much, in what direction, over what range of motion and at what speed), and how the tissues of the body will adapt to those forces.

Put simply, understanding forces and their effects are at the core of physical training ideologies. Coaches and trainers must remember, there are forces on us all the time (whether something is moving or not). If there is movement, there is a force that caused that movement.

Premise #3

Proper understanding and implementation of biomechanics are essential in all aspects of training (Assess – Design – Instruct- Reassess).

When you reach the assessment section, you will find that much of the assessment process consists of postural and movement assessments. These assessments are looking at how the client’s body has adapted to forces imposed upon it over time. These assessments may indicate certain kinetic chain imbalances (short/tight muscles on one side of a joint) that need to be addressed.

Understanding how the body is going to adapt to the biomechanical stress place upon it is essential to program design. The exercises chosen (and how they will be implemented) are based on the client’s goals and needs and your knowledge of how to make them adapt safely and efficiently. Once the exercises are chosen, exercise instructions is the area where most coaches and personal trainers associate the importance of biomechanics. Put simply, understanding basic biomechanics is the basis of instructing proper technique.

How do we use Biomechanics to Maximize Performance and Minimize Chance of Injury?

There is a systematic thought process that every coach and personal trainer must utilize to ensure any person under their care is receiving optimal/maximal attention for every movement suggested.

What do we Analyze?

When we evaluate a trainee’s technique for a specific movement, we are doing a biomechanical analysis for every rep of every set as well since each repetition is viewed as assessment. You should be able to distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant, what is correct and what is incorrect, what is possible and what is impossible, what is effective and what is ineffective, what is safe and what is unsafe, etc.

The first thing to evaluate and understand is the movement itself without regard to the forces that caused it. In physics, this is known as kinematics. This would be analyzing such details as the osteokinematics (planes of motion) learned in Chapter 1, the direction of motion, the path of motion, and the range of motion (range of motion is covered in detail in the assessment chapter). A kinematic analysis may include basic kinematic variables such as distance, speed, and acceleration.

Only after you analyze the kinematics does one look at the forces that cause the movement (as well as other forces on the body). In physics, this is known as kinetics.

Another way of looking at the analysis process is to look at joints first (both moving and not moving, describing them kinematically), then the external and internal forces on the body (kinetics). Note, muscles are engineered to move joints in a particular fashion (based on the structure of the joint). Therefore, a basic understanding of joint structure and function is essential for proper muscle activation (i.e. if a trainee is moving the joints properly, then the muscles must be working properly). Furthermore, one doesn’t truly know which internal forces are developed without first looking at the external forces that caused it.

Basic Definitions:

  • Kinematics – The study of motion without regard to its causes (forces)
  • Kinetics – The study of forces acting on a system
  • Kinesiology – The scientific and artistic study of human movement
  • Force – A “push” or a “pull.” Based on Newton’s Second Law of Motion, Force = Mass x Acceleration or F = ma. This equation leads to impulse

The practical way to Analyze and Optimize

While it is unlikely coaches and trainers will be using advanced biomechanical analysis tools with their trainees, there is a step-by-step process to do a qualitative biomechanical analysis recommended by McGinnis (2013).

Step 1: Describe the Ideal Technique

In order to train anyone a particular movement, you must have a fundamental knowledge of the skill. This begs the question, how does one know the “ideal” technique? If it’s a performance movement, such as pitching a fastball, the coach will watch successful pitchers, read coaching journals and textbooks, and find any source that discusses how successful individuals apply their skill.

More likely, the coach will be describing some sort of exercise or drill. Once again, the coach will use the same strategy of researching what the “ideal” technique is.  That said, whether one is describing a sports-specific skill or an exercise, one must think critically and be skeptical of the “experts”. Just because one person is successfully doing a bench press in a particular fashion doesn’t mean everyone should use the same technique. Please remember that the coach’s or personal trainer’s job is to individualize the technique to the individual. It should be customized to the trainee’s current abilities, genetics, and goals.

When the coach or personal trainer is researching sources to describe the ideal technique, they are attempting to find the common characteristics of the most efficient technique to appropriately modify these characteristics with all trainees.

Step 2: Observe the Client Performing the Technique

When observing a client perform a particular technique, we have to ask ourselves several questions:

  • Who are we observing? What is their current skill level? What are their current limitations?
  • Under what conditions?
  • Where to observe?
  • What to look for?

The answers to these questions will determine your ability to successfully evaluate the client.

Step 3: Evaluate the Performance

When the coach or personal trainer is evaluating any performance, they are simply comparing the “ideal” with the actual performance of the client. They are identifying errors and evaluating those errors to determine the focus of your correction efforts. Is the error actually dangerous and there is risk of injury?  Is it a new trainee learning a new skill that will take time to develop the proper motor pattern?

Step 4: Instruct the Client:

This is where proper communication skills are vital so the coach or personal trainer can successfully communicate with the trainee and correct errors in technique.

What do we Optimize?

Again, we focus on both the movement (kinematics) and the forces that cause the movement (kinetics). The coach or personal trainer 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 perform every movement as close to the ideal technique (which may be unique to them) in order to Maximize Performance and to Minimize Injury.

Your Personal Training Career

Understanding biomechanics, human movement and joint function gives 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.

If you haven’t already, check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. This is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

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