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How applied sport mechanics can help you

This is an excerpt from Applied Sport Mechanics 4th Edition With Web Resource-Loose-Leaf Edition by Brendan Burkett.

You will learn to observe, analyze, and correct errors in performance.

This benefit is the most important one you'll get from reading Applied Sport Mechanics. This text will help you develop a basic understanding of mechanics, and by using this knowledge you will be able to distinguish between efficient and inefficient movements in an athlete's technique. The information in this text will help you pick out unproductive movements and follow up with precise instructions that help optimize performance.

  1. You won't waste time with vague advice like "Throw harder" or "Try to be more dynamic." Obscure tips like these only confuse and frustrate the athletes you're trying to help.
  2. One of the most effective ways to observe, analyze, and correct errors is through the use of technology, so we've added a section on technology within each chapter to provide you with some additional resources.

On the other hand, if you're the athlete and your coach is not present, a basic knowledge of sport mechanics will help you understand why you should eliminate certain movements in your technique and instead emphasize other actions.

Application to Sport

Advances in Equipment Require Changes in Technique

In the 1998 Nagano Olympics, world records in speed skating were continually broken by athletes using clap skates. The blade on a clap skate is hinged at the front of the shoe but not at the heel. The hinge allows the blade to stay in contact with the ice longer so that the skater is able to thrust at the ice for a longer time. The characteristic clapping noise occurs at the end of each stroke when the blade "claps" back into contact with the heel of the shoe. The clap skate requires a new technique in which the skater must push more directly backward and from the toe rather than out to the side and from the heel. Athletes who were accustomed to the older skates (with the blade permanently joined to the boot at heel and toe) had to adapt to the new equipment and change their technique.


DAVE BUSTON/AFP/Getty Images
DAVE BUSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Adapted from "The Athletic Arms Race" by Mike May in Scientific American special issue: "Building the Elite Athlete," Nov. 27, 2000, page 74.


You'll be better able to assess the effectiveness of innovations in sport equipment.

When Greg LeMond of the United States won the Tour de France by a few seconds over Laurent Fignon of France, he certainly illustrated the value of fitness and determination. Equally as important, LeMond and the technicians who assisted him knew the importance of reducing wind resistance to a minimum, particularly during the Tour's final time trial. They realized that if LeMond could maintain a low, dart-like body position that allowed the air to flow smoothly over and past his body, he would spend less energy pushing air aside and could spend more energy propelling himself at high speed.


This knowledge of mechanics paid off! The same principles apply in other sports. You need to know what is gained from design changes in such items as golf clubs, tennis rackets, skis, speed skates, mountain bikes, and swimsuits.


Applied Sport Mechanics
cannot teach you all there is to know in the world of sport equipment design, because changes and modifications will continue to occur at an ever-increasing pace. But this text will certainly give you a foundation of knowledge on which you can build.


You'll be better prepared to assess training methods for potential safety problems.

Think of an athlete squatting with a barbell on his shoulders. Where should the athlete position the bar? Should it be placed high on the shoulders or lower down? And what about the angle of the athlete's back during the squatting action? What are the mechanical implications of a full squat compared with half and three-quarter squats? How fast should the athlete lower into the squat position?

  1. If you know about levers and torque, you'll understand why it's dangerous to bend forward when you squat. Likewise, if you are familiar with the characteristics of momentum and understand how every action has an equal and opposite reaction, you'll know that dropping quickly into a full squat puts tremendous stress on the lower back, knees, and hips. You may have been teaching good technique but don't fully understand why one way of performing the technique is potentially dangerous and another is not. Applied Sport Mechanics will give you the reasons.
  2. In gymnastics you will frequently see spotting techniques that provide a high level of safety, and you'll also see other techniques that endanger both the gymnast and the spotter.

To explain these concepts further, we've added a new section, "How to Measure," where appropriate within the relevant chapter. This new section describes several ways to measure what is happening in sport that can then be used to assess training methods. By reading Applied Sport Mechanics you'll discover, for example, why efficient spotting requires an understanding of balance, levers, torque, and the momentum generated by the gymnast performing the skill.


This information will help you teach safe spotting techniques in gymnastics and good technique in weight training. Of course, Applied Sport Mechanics is not limited to these two sports. You can apply the mechanical principles that you read about to every sport.


You'll be better able to assess the value of innovations in the ways sport skills are performed.

In sport, our capacity for reasoning and creativity has been responsible for the advances in talent selection, technique, training, and equipment design. We all possess a tremendous capacity for creativity. Coaches must use this creativity to search for better ways to improve their athletes' performance. All athletes differ in physique, temperament, and physical ability; what works for one athlete will not necessarily work for another. Similarly, a young athlete will differ dramatically from a mature athlete.

  1. To help athletes achieve top-flight performances, coaches should learn why sport techniques are performed as they are and be prepared to modify certain aspects of these techniques to fit the athletes' age, maturity, and experience. There are many examples of the willingness of coaches and athletes to try out new ideas.
  2. In team games, coaches modify attack and defense formations relative to the team they will face in an upcoming contest.

Among athletes, think of how the creativity and experimentation of Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump. Similarly, the glide and rotary techniques have increased the distances thrown in the shot put. In gymnastics, consider the number of skills named after their creative inventors (such as the "Thomas Flair," named after former U.S. gymnast Kurt Thomas).


So be curious and learn the how and why of technique. At the same time, be creative and willing to experiment. Coaches should to encourage their athletes to use their own creative capacities as well. They should always look for ways to improve their understanding of the sport they are coaching. They can be a coach, an analyst, and an innovator all at the same time!


You will know what to expect from different body types and different levels of maturity.

If you understand the mechanical principles governing the techniques of your sport, you'll understand why young athletes (who are growing quickly) have a tougher time maneuvering, changing direction, and coordinating their movements than more mature athletes do.

  1. You'll realize that young athletes cannot follow the same training regimens used by more mature athletes.
  2. You'll also understand why tall athletes with long arms and legs have an edge in some sports but are at a disadvantage in others.

Similarly, you will realize why smaller athletes tend to have a good strength-to-weight ratio and can cut, turn, and shift more quickly than athletes who are taller and heavier.