The researchers brought together state-of-the-art technology to study the movement and force-generation patterns of the athletes during their block starts on the track, and various weight-training exercises. These included a high-speed motion capture system to precisely record whole body movements, electromyograph (EMG) sensors to measure real-time neuromuscular activity, in-shoe sensors that pinpoint pressures on the sole of the foot and an in-ground force plate that helps calculate the athletes’ power. Seventy percent of the sprinters participating in the research are consistently improving their personal bests in the weight room week by week, but more importantly, they continue to run faster and faster on the track.
“Children with degenerative muscular or neurological diseases, older people with loss of balance and people of all ages needing rehabilitation from injuries can benefit from this technology,” Ordelt says.
“We can provide mathematical data for building assistive devices for handicapped people,” he adds. “Our methods provide a deeper understanding of how the body moves. It’s unique that we have so many sensors synched at one time.”
Prior to a series of weight-training exercises and block-starts, Ordelt and another exercise science graduate student and co-researcher, Nabil Salim, attached 40 reflective tracking beads from head to toe on 17 men and women athletes. High-speed filming of the markers during movements led to computer models of the athletes performing the exercises. The computerized figures were then be used to calculate a wide range of physics variables that directly apply to sprinting.
In addition, eight EMG sensors were placed on muscle groups in the legs to correlate their “firing” to the acceleration modeled by the computerized figures. A force plate and in-shoe sensors measured ground forces generated by the athletes. Direct-force output data was integrated into the analysis.
Preliminary results have allowed Cusano’s sprinters and hurdlers to modify and improve training techniques. Practice sessions have become more efficient and productive, the athletes say.
Sprinter Jillian O’Brien, who participated in the study, says the information she received from Ordelt and Salim, even during the data collection phase, helped her qualify for America East finals in the 60- and the 200-meter dash events. O’Brien, a junior exercise science major from Buffalo, N.Y., believes the knowledge also will help her in the future as a coach and fitness professional.
A review of the data collected so far also has improved the athletes lifting techniques says Cusano. For example, the 115-pound O’Brien increased her power clean from 125 to 150 pounds, and her maximal back squat is more than 300 pounds.
Others’ performances also improved. Another runner trimmed her personal best 400-meter dash time by a significant 2 seconds. She also shaved a half second from her 60-meter personal best. In a race where the difference between winning and losing can be 100th of a second, sprinting a full half second faster is a tremendous achievement, says Lehnhard.
“The correlation between our weight room work and our performance on the track is exactly what we are looking for,”Cusano says. “A study such as this will help further ensure that we are being smart about our off- track training practices.”