Sports biomechanics is a science that helps you to achieve your athletic goals in the quickest and safest possible way. This scientific approach to training and performance testing helps you to understand your body needs as well as mechanical corrections (essential for injury prevention).
Although, we all are humans, we have anthropometric differences (measurements and proportions of the human body) as well as genetic differences (hereditary DNA). In other words, we all come in different shapes, sizes, natural abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
The benefit of scientific training for any sport (but of course we’re interested in running) will train every individual athlete according to your own personal set of strengths and weaknesses. By working this way, we can avoid overtraining (helping decrease the risk of overuse injuries).
This article will discuss importance of scientific training with regard to running along with understanding the important biomechanical testing protocols (essential for designing of athlete specific training plans). So stay tuned…
Important biomechanical tests for runners
It is imperative for you to identify and understand your strengths and weaknesses before starting any training program. The strengths and weaknesses of an athlete are directly related to the demands of the sport in question. Some sports require maximal strength, some need maximum speed and some need both strength and speed at adequate levels. In runners, we primarily need to have good speed and stamina for peak performance.
You as a runner, who wants to develop your weakness in running (speed and stamina) then you must train according to your body mechanics, to get that you need to undertake some biomechanical tests. These tests are very simple to conduct and provide comprehensive information about runner’s mechanical qualities.(As a bonus, these tests also help to unravel possibilities of sports injuries in near future – to correct and pre-habilitate).
Your overall running posture and running gait details could be gathered form video analysis using high frame rate cameras using a video analysis software. However the kinetic analysis of a runner is mainly performed on the force platform.(Kinetic analysis using force platform helps to measure key biomechanical qualities essential for peak performance).
Counter movement jump (CMJ) test
This is a simple jump test in which, athlete is supposed to jump on the force platform (as shown below in the demonstration) involving efficient use of Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC)
To perform CMJ, the athlete starts in an upright position, weight equally distributed on the force plate without shoes and socks. The jump is then initiated by taking a countermovement (a dip or 90 degree squat – the eccentric phase of SSC). This is followed by short amortization phase *this is not a pause but a change in force direction (SSC calls it then amortisation phase as well) and then finally athlete propels into the air by concentric contraction (concentric phase of SSC).Landing back on the plate with a two-foot strong landing (no shuffling or step out of balance).
And the best result of three attempts is recorded; the force platform records the Ground Reaction Force during whole test and produce a force time curve with multiple peaks.
Force time curve
The force time curve contains comprehensive information gathered from the CMJ. The results reveal crucial biomechanical qualities of athlete under observation, such as the ‘take-off force peak’ or ‘active peak’. This peak measures lower body strength of the runner performing the CMJ; the higher the take off peak, better is the lower body explosive strength of the CMJ performer..
During running movement, lower body strength is crucial factor for speed gains. If you happen to be weak in lower body strength, it is highly advised to undergo lower body strengthening programme so is to correct and optimise performance (and the CMJ force time curve will highlight this for you).
It also records a second peak, known as the ‘landing impact’ and gives ideas about landing technique of the CMJ performer as a harsh landing is considered a direct indicator of potential injuries in lower limbs. As the peak suggests your in-efficiency to utilise the SSC, and highlight to your innate struggle to absorb high impact of ground reaction forces.
Don’t worry, its not all doom and gloom!
Your Hang or flight time result reveals the extent of coordination of the muscles and nervous system of the jumper. The higher the flight time (the time you are in the air), the better the coordination.
So basically a simple CMJ gives a great depth of important information about lower body strength, ability to use SSC and muscle coordination with nervous system.
Symmetry is must in between muscles for efficient, harmonious running. And any sort of asymmetry is a guarantee for sports injury.
Biomechanical symmetry between the legs of a runner is performed by using two force platforms at a time. You simply jump on both force platforms (at the same time, one foot on each) for symmetry analysis. Two force time curves are generated for both legs and analysis is done via comparison of peaks. Easy right? Any significant difference in peaks is direct indicator of asymmetry and should be corrected immediately for prevention of serious sports injuries.
Drop jump test
This test also gives important information in the form of force time curve. The biomechanical implications calculated during Drop Test (DJ) are your Reactive Strength Index (RSI) and ground contact time.
Reactive strength is related to acceleration speed, change of direction speed, and even agility. Whereas ground contact time measurement directly reveals speed ability of the runner. The shorter the ground contact time faster you are
The drop jump test is executed by stepping off a box, dropping directly onto the force platform, absorbing the drop and immediately followed by rapid propulsion into the air, into a jump. (Another easy one as the muscular activity in DJ also utilizes SSC).
Importance of jump tests
Important biomechanical information is derived from jump tests with help of force platforms. However, many athletes query that if their sport does not involve jumping then these jump testing is still essential for them?
The straightforward answer to the query is, yes.
All athletes (that’s including you as a runner) must undergo these tests for specific, scientific designing of your training modules. Jumping is a process that involves use of full kinetic chain of important muscles (from bottom to top) that are crucial in every single sport movement. Therefore, good performance in these tests directly reveal your biomechanical strengths (and weaknesses). Ultimately, with these tests you can comprehensively understand your running; crucial for better speed, better efficiency and fewer injuries.
On the whole, running performance is determined by two energy resources:
- Metabolic energy from muscles
- Elastic energy from connective tissue tendons
The tests mentioned in this article would clearly reveal you current status of both of these energy resources. Weakness in metabolic energy is virtue of weak muscular strength, while low elastic energy shows inability to utilize stretch shortening cycle optimally.
The optimal use of elastic energy will make you a better runner as you will be hitting the ground in a better way (better speed) and will absorb those impact forces too (minimization of injuries). Hence, training with science, biomechanically will help you improve from more ways than one, you will reach your running goals in a quickest and safest way.