In this blog, we are going to look deeply at biomechanics; explaining what biomechanics are and attempting to answer the question "should you train to your sports movement pattern?".
Personally, I find biomechanics incredibly interesting and when I was at university. It was one of my main sources of interest.
Covered in this blog
- What are biometrics?
- Common examples of biometrics
- Movement patterns: help or hinderance?
- How you should train using biometrics
What are biomechanics?
Biomechanics are “the study of mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organism”. Which is essentially the long way of saying “your body shape, and how you move”. In sport biomechanics plays an important role, especially when assessing athletes on their movement patterns.
For sports like soccer, hockey and basketball, the importance of biomechanics is easy to enforce as athletes in this sport must spring, jump, change direction and complete movement’s specific to that sport (for example, shooting into a goal) at the blink of an eye. But, what about sports where there is little movement.
A sport like golf is an amazing example of the importance of biomechanics. While there is no range of movement like there is in the sports above, golf is a heavily technical sport and how an athlete performs a movement can be the difference between winning and losing. But, what about a sport like cycling?
In mountain biking, sure; you can easily see why biomechanics would play a huge role; especially in a sport like downhill where the athlete is subjected to several different movements such as jumping, riding technical terrain, adapting to any sudden mistakes or changes in terrain.
Even in cross country cycling, athletes must move around on the bike a lot, arguably more so than downhill due to a wider range of terrain an elevation.
But, what about on the road? Cycling is a sport where the body position changes very little. Aside from a bit of movement to use different areas of the handlebar, do cyclists really need to assess how their body moves over the course of a ride.
Believe it or not. Biomechanics play a huge role in cycling too.
From the very first time you get on your bike and make some adjustments. Do the handlebars need raising or lowering? Is the stem too short? Do you need to adjust the seat post? Is your seat in the right position?
This is all biomechanics, you are creating a bike that fits how your body is put together. Compensating for limb length, torso length, and any injuries you may have that may effect the comfort of the bike.
Essentially, we have not even got into riding yet and we have covered why biomechanics is so important.
What about on the bike then, obviously everything we have mentioned will affect your performance. Allowing the correct muscles to do the work, allowing your body to be comfortable on the bike so all you must focus on is the ride ahead. Biomechanics is an essential part of cycling and understanding both how your body is put together, and how your body moves is a huge part of improving performance.
Common examples of biomechanics
If you have ever had a bike fit. You have essentially undergone a biomechanical assessment, just like a golfer would be measured up for a golf club, or you would be measured up for your wedding suit. Your body has been analysed limb from limb, joint from joint to design the bike to fit you exactly how you need it too.
Another example of this would be filming yourself in the gym, looking at how your body moves while it performs a squat for example.
This is something you could do on your own, with your phones camera, and it might allow you to correct several issues that your body may have.
For example, if your body is sitting lower on one side than the other, you may have a tightness in the muscles, you could have an under-active muscle, or it could be down to bone structure. But, you will never know what it is if you do not identity that your body is doing these things using biomechanics.
Movement patterns, help or hinderance?
On the face of it, training within your sports movement patterns makes perfect sense. But, when you dive deeper you have to ask questions.
For example, when training to the movement patterns of mountain biking, the press up would be a very short movement, ending with the arm bent less than 45 degrees. This may be fine when a rider is on the bike, as it allows for the athlete to be strong in the movement patterns of the sport, but what happens then when a rider goes over the bars and the range of movement is a lot more? In this scenario it’s the rider vs the floor and 100% of the time, the floor will win.
Using this example, the rider will need to be strong through the whole range of motion that is possible in the elbow, shoulder joint and also be supple enough to have their joints bend past where they would usually move too (without being hyper mobile).
This does not mean however that there are no advantages to training within the movement patterns of a sport. I am an advocate of this, with exercises like the box squat bringing the athletes thighs to the same angle they would be at during the top of a pedal stroke. Cross country MTB legend Nino Schurter posted a video with a known MTB channel last year in which he showed that he only squats half the way down for the same reason. While there is viability to this it should also be considered that your body must also be able to perform outside of life on the bike. Posture, being able to squat down to pick up things you have dropped, interacting with your pets/children, enjoying other sports like running or climbing all require ranges of motion past cycling and for that reason alone it cannot be advisable to only train within the movement parameters of your sport.
How you should train using biometrics
You might consider working within a ratio of 1:2. Essentially for every one exercise that you do which mimics the movement patters/range of motion of a sport I would then do two exercises that take the movement past this point. As an example of this let me take an athlete in a sport like soccer.
Soccer players need to be powerful; for when they are required to win headers; sprint off of the line; and complete rapid changes of direction.
It’s not common for soccer players to do jumping movements, sprint drills etc in the gym. Movements that replicate their sports range of motion and biomechanical patterns. However, soccer players will also squat, deadlift and complete movements that take them past this range of motion, to develop strength in the leg joints such as the knees and ankles. This allows them to be more resilient to the constant wear and tear (that all athletes put on their body) over the course of a season.
By working on these ratios, you can confidently train within the movements of your sport, to make yourself a more powerful athlete, but also develop your body in a way that it can withstand knocks and injury, and complete activities in day-to-day life or other hobbies with ease.
- Box jump
- Back squat
- Kettlebell lunge
Here you can see the jumping movement as the 1 in the ratio, with the other two exercises being 2.
When training for, and competing in,sport. How the body moves is incredibly important, with the phrase “train movements, not muscles” being applicable. Hopefully, this article has given you some inspiration into how biomechanics plays into your sporting life, and how you can work to make yourself a faster rider on the bike.