Biomechanics in the Postsecondary Population: Are We Taking Our Best Shot? "Applied Biomechanics" Needs to Become Truly Applied

Article excerpt

The program description for the All-Academy Symposium in Chicago contained the phrase, "Traditionally, NASPE has focused on promoting physical activity for K-12 students." While this may be an appropriate reflection of many of the academies, biomechanics research is abundantly filled with data representing postsecondary young adults, and consequently sparse with data representing students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Biomechanical analyses of sport performance encompasses such a wide spectrum of topics that the body of literature includes studies ranging from obscure sports such as windsurfing and axe throwing, to the more widely practiced sports of running and swimming. However, a large and growing body of knowledge is available in the area of ergonomics. Almost all of these investigations are conducted with postsecondary populations and are extremely important for keeping individuals safe in the worksite environment. Ergonomists (i.e., worksite biomechanists) have played a role in designing new keyboards, in desk-height research, in machinery adjustments, in tool development, and in other areas, All of the research that the ergonomist conducts is done in order to help people work more productively and pain free. Although the field of ergonomics poses a very interesting area of study for the biomechanics specialist, NASPE is concerned with the leisure-time movement of the adult in a sport or physical education setting. Thus, the remainder of this article will address biomechanics in sports, or "applied biomechanics," as many are prone to call the discipline.

To address the original claim that "Biomechanics research is abundantly filled with data representing postsecondary young adults," I conducted an informal survey of biomechanically related literature. The survey was limited to journals available at my institution and to all issues from January 2004 through April 2005 (table 1). Further, only articles examining human movement were included in the survey. Computer-modeling studies and investigations using cadaver samples that made assumptions about human movement were excluded from review.


This informal survey of current biomechanically related literature produced the following results.

* Biomechanics typically does not examine the K-12 population. There are few examples of biomechanics in relation to children as compared to postsecondary and university young adults (only 9% of studies surveyed dealt with children).

* Some studies examine all populations in the same investigation.

* The majority of sport and physical activity research deals with university students (70% of studies surveyed).

* The remaining studies surveyed examined older and elderly populations (21%).

The surveyed journals contain a great deal of data dealing with the selected population of this symposium, but most of it is descriptive. Of the articles surveyed, 72 percent were descriptive and made no attempt to prescribe "fixes" for unskilled performances. Of the 28 percent of the articles that tried to suggest a means to maintain or "fix" movement, only 34 percent used non-elite performers. Because elite performers are the best at their particular skill, their use in a study limits the author's opportunity to prescribe "fixes" for a movement, and therefore reduces the study's relevance for the general population.

The Shotgun Approach

This brings me to my subtitle. Are we taking our best shot? I would respond with an emphatic no. I liken biomechanists' approach to research to shooting a shotgun at clay pigeons flying through the air. In firing a shotgun, a couple hundred projectiles are sent flying into the air. As the projectiles fly through the air, they spread out, giving the "shot pattern" breadth. Biomechanics has proven its versatility and breadth by examining just about every sport movement conceivable (some skills to a greater degree than others) and by describing each of these skills with lots and lots of numbers. …