Not since the gladiators of Rome has anyone seen a more intense 60 minutes of sport than what players face on Southeastern Conference football Saturdays. In a conference characterized by hard hits and a brutal pace, these athletes must keep their bodies in peak condition in order to stay safe and competitive on the field.

To prepare the Bulldogs for this elite level of play, the MSU Athletic Department has partnered with the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) for a new sports performance program. Combining engineering know-how with established training methods, the program helps coaches gain a better understanding of the players’ physiology.

“We have two goals: to maximize athlete performance and to maintain athlete health,” explained Daniel Carruth, associate director of human factors at CAVS. “The data we collect supplements the information that the athletic trainers routinely gather and will help them evaluate their current training programs.”

 

Working with Matt Balis, head strength and conditioning coach, and scientists from the university’s kinesiology department, the CAVS researchers are using motion capture technology and specialty modeling software to allow the coaches to monitor, from any angle, how an athlete moves and reacts when performing certain actions.

“Currently, the coaches use video to help evaluate players’ physical performance while in training, but this only allows them to see one side at a time. We are able to provide 3-D data, which let the coaches evaluate the player from any angle,” Carruth said.

Adam Knight, an assistant professor of sport biomechanics, added, “Motion capture and modeling software allows us to see things that you might miss with the naked eye. By identifying an athlete who might be predisposed to an injury, the athletic trainers can work to correct those deficiencies.”

The program began in the summer of 2010 when the researchers collected data on a select group of athletes. After determining what information best allows the coaches to assess the players’ performance, the group established a schedule for collecting data to evaluate the athletes’ progress in the strength and conditioning program.

"We work with CAVS three times a year to collect performance data,” Balis explained. “It gives us immediate feedback on a player’s condition so we can help him this season, better prepare him for next season, and protect him throughout his athletic career.”

He added, “Pre-hab, or individualized corrective exercise, is the future of strength and conditioning. Instead of just reacting to a situation with rehabilitation, we can prevent an injury before it occurs.”

For data collection, the athletes wear numerous reflective markers that bounce signals to a system of infrared cameras which record the players’ movements as they run through a series of basic exercises including squats, jumps and lunges. These actions showcase a variety of muscle and joint movements.

By providing a comprehensive look at how athletes’ joints and muscles work together, motion capture technology is particularly beneficial for identifying players with a predisposition to knee and ankle injuries, which can bring a quick end to a promising athletic career.

“This testing looks a lot at the strength and flexibility of the lower extremity, especially the knee and hip,” Knight said. “It helps the coaches see that everything has proper alignment and that the guys aren’t putting too much stress on one particular joint.”

The group realizes that no amount of research or strength and conditioning can prevent all injuries—especially when 300-pound linemen collide—but Balis has been pleased with the results of the program so far. He noted that the team’s pre-season injury report was shorter and included fewer muscle pulls and strains than those of other teams he has seen.

“This program provides a great way to see how our guys are improving and evaluate our training methods” Balis said. “We feel like we’ve got a good system in place with this testing protocol and I just hope CAVS is able to continue to work with us for years to come.”

The researchers are currently looking into expanding the program to include Bulldog baseball. Carruth is hopeful that the research can eventually build from the success of the football performance program to expand its reach to include all Bulldog athletic teams. He also sees future applications in area rehabilitation or physical therapy units.

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