top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephen O'Dwyer

Mastering Movement: Biomechanics 101


Are you curious about the magic behind the perfect walk of a thoroughbred? Have you ever marvelled at the effortless grace of a thoroughbred's gallop, or puzzled over why a horse seems to be favouring one leg? The answer lies in the fascinating world of equine biomechanics. At TrojanTrack, we're passionate about using biomechanical analysis to help trainers unlock their horses' full potential. But what exactly is biomechanics, and why is it so important? In the next two blog posts, we'll guide you from the basics up, through the history and science of biomechanics, and show you how it can revolutionize your understanding of equine movement. So saddle up and join us for Biomechanics 101: The Basics!


What is it?

Biomechanics is a fascinating and extensive field that plays a crucial role in the daily lives of both humans and animals. At its core, it is the study of how the internal structures of our bodies function and respond to external forces to create movement. This includes the functions of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, as well as physiological responses and external stimuli that result in specific mechanics that make up our athletic and everyday movement.



Different animals are built differently, with varying biomechanical purposes. For example, consider the wings of a bird compared to the fins of a fish. While both are built for propulsion, they differ significantly in design and function. A bird's wings are optimized for generating lift and propelling it through the air, while a fish's fins are designed to propel it through water. The shape and curvature of the wings and fins are optimized for their respective environments, allowing them to move through their mediums with the least amount of energy.


The animal kingdom provides plenty of examples of the fascinating interplay between structure and function, but the same is true for humans as well. For instance, when Usain Bolt and Mo Farah jog side by side, we can observe the differences in their biomechanics. Due to larger muscles, Usain may look more powerful and athletic, but his movement requires more energy and is less efficient for long distances. By contrast, Mo Farah's movement may appear less powerful, but it is more optimized for endurance and efficient movement over longer distances.



The History of Biomechanics – Muybridge and the Stanford Bet

The history of biomechanics can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greeks, who were the first to make observations about human movement and the principles of mechanics. However, it was not until the 19th century that the study of biomechanics as a scientific discipline began to emerge. In the early 20th century, the pioneering work of researchers such as Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, who used high-speed photography to capture the movement of humans and animals, laid the foundations for the modern study of biomechanics.


Funnily enough, a bet may have been the catalyst to kickstart modern high-speed photography analysis. The Stanford bet was a wager between Leland Stanford, a businessman and racehorse owner, and a group of his friends in 1872. The bet was whether or not all four of a horse's hooves leave the ground at the same time during a gallop. At the time, there was much debate over this question, and no one had been able to prove definitively whether or not all four hooves left the ground simultaneously. To settle the bet, Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer, to capture a series of images of a horse running.


Muybridge's solution to capturing the images was to set up a series of cameras along a track and use tripwires to activate the cameras in succession as the horse ran past. He was eventually able to capture a series of images that showed a horse in motion with all four hooves off the ground, conclusively proving that all four hooves did indeed leave the ground during a gallop. Stanford left his next meeting with his buddies $25,000 richer (equivalent to $610,000 today!)



Muybridge's work revolutionized the study of animal movement and paved the way for the development of modern biomechanics. The advent of computers and digital imaging technologies transformed the field of biomechanics. Researchers could now use computer simulations to model the human body and study the effects of factors such as muscle strength and joint range of motion on movement patterns. Motion capture technology allowed for the study of complex movements in greater detail.




Today, wearable sensors and video devices have taken biomechanics research out of the lab and into real-world settings. Researchers can now study movement during sports or daily activities, providing insights into how to improve athletic performance or prevent injuries. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms have also enabled the analysis of vast amounts of biomechanical data, revealing new patterns and relationships.


TrojanTrack is revolutionizing biomechanics analysis in racehorses by identifying patterns in a horse's movement that may indicate injury risk or performance potential. This information allows trainers and veterinarians to make informed decisions on training and care, ultimately improving horse health and performance. TrojanTrack's system is easily accessible, as it only requires a smartphone, unlike Muybridge's original system which required 16 individual cameras!



The Basic Principles of Biomechanics

Let’s not get too complicated here. At its core, biomechanics is based on the laws of physics, including Newton's laws of motion, which describe how forces affect the movement of objects. Biomechanics also incorporates principles from engineering to analyse the structure and function of biological systems, including the design of materials that can withstand stress and strain.


One fundamental concept in biomechanics is kinematics, which is concerned with the study of motion without regard to the forces that cause it. Kinematics involves the analysis of the position, velocity, and acceleration of objects or bodies in motion. In human biomechanics, kinematics is applied to study the mechanics of movement, including walking, running, jumping, throwing, and other forms of motion. Researchers use kinematic data to better understand how the human body moves, how different movements are produced, and how to optimize movement patterns for improved performance or injury prevention.


Examples of Biomechanics in Humans and Horses

Biomechanics is a fascinating field that has applications in several areas, including sports science, physical therapy, and ergonomics. To see how much biomechanics can impact performance at an elite level, let's take a look at the example of a golf swing. As a +18 handicap golfer, I can tell you first-hand how complex the biomechanics of a golf swing can be, and how much they can affect elite performance. While I can hit a golf ball decently, I'm far from an elite golfer, and it's a lottery whenever I hit a drive. But for those who aspire to be professional golfers, understanding the biomechanics of the golf swing is crucial.


The biomechanics of a golf swing involves several coordinated movements of the feet, knees, hips, torso, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. With practice, anyone can develop an average golf swing without even thinking about all the body parts involved in the movement. However, elite golfers must analyse every position in their body at every part of the swing if they want to excel. Through the application of biomechanics, they can tailor their swing to become longer hitters, more accurate, and less prone to injuries. So, the next time you hit the golf course, take a moment to appreciate the biomechanics involved in your swing and take a minute to understand how complex ‘natural’ movement actually is.



In equine sports, biomechanics has also become an essential tool for trainers and riders. Biomechanical analysis can help identify areas of weakness or imbalance in a horse's movement and suggest training methods, equipment, and care to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. There are various factors that influence equine biomechanics, including conformation, stride length, and movement efficiency. Conformation affects the horse's musculoskeletal system, determining the way the animal moves and how forces are distributed throughout the body. Stride length is a crucial factor in determining the horse's speed and endurance. Movement efficiency is the ability of the horse's musculoskeletal system to use the least amount of energy possible to perform a task. In this next blog we will look at these relationships in more detail, with peer-reviewed papers referenced.


Conclusion

In conclusion, biomechanics is an exciting and interdisciplinary field that continues to reveal the intricate mechanics of living systems. From the foundational work of Muybridge to the modern innovations of wearable sensors and machine learning algorithms, we have come a long way in understanding how living organisms move and function. Whether you're an athlete, animal lover, or simply curious about the world around us, understanding the principles of biomechanics can deepen your appreciation for the beauty and complexity of natural movement.


Next week, we'll delve deeper into the fascinating world of equine biomechanics, exploring anatomy, use cases, and more. Don't miss out on this insightful journey, and be sure to share this blog with your friends and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates. Thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.







134 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page