Tag Archives: sports

What an Optimized Running Gait Can Do for You

Running is one of the oldest and most common forms of exercise, but there are many ways that running mechanics vary from person to person. Identifying the different running gaits is important so that their efficiencies and effects on the body can be analyzed. Injuries in runners are common and having an understanding of how different gaits apply stresses on the body differently can be used to educate runners on how to run in a way that will reduce the risk of injury.

Running with poor mechanics can lead to overuse injuries, which are more common than acute injuries in serious runners. The majority of these injuries occur in the leg either at or below the knee and include patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints). Running gait analysis can be used to identify the poor mechanics and the potential risks associated with the mechanics. Further studies have grouped the variations so that the effects of similar gaits can be identified. Extensive analysis has led to the identification of several potential variations in running gait.

A study at Shanghai Jiao Tong University‘s School of Mechanical Engineering determined the effects of step rate, trunk posture, and footstrike pattern on the impact experienced by the runner. Data was collected by instructing runners to run with specified gait characteristics. Sensors made used to make sure that the gait was correct and the impact forces on the running surface were measured. This study showed the lowest impact was experienced with a high step rate, a forefoot strike pattern, and an increased anterior lean angle. Limiting the impact reduces the effects of the loading. As a result, running with these gait characteristics reduces the risk of knee pain and stress fracture in the tibia.

Runner on treadmill with attached sensors following instructions to modify gait
from: Huang, Xia, Gang, Sulin, Cheunge, & Shulla, 2019

While the most important factor in this analysis is how forces are translated through the body, this is difficult to measure directly. The technology does not exist to measure these forces accurately and noninvasively. Since invasive techniques would not allow the person to run normally, indirect ways of measuring this data have been developed. One of these alternatives involves collecting kinematic data which can be used to calculate the forces and observe different gait patterns. They do this by recording high speed video of runners. Usually, photo reflective stickers or LEDs are fixed to critical points of motion so that the motion of these points relative to each other can be plotted and analyzed. This data can be used to develop algorithms that describe different gaits.

Running gait does not only affect risk of injury, but also efficiency. Kinematic studies have shown that as running speed increases, a runner’s gait changes to accommodate this change in speed. One change in the gait was the foot strike pattern changed from rear foot to forefoot. This motion shortens the gait cycle and increases the step rate. However, when the runners ran at their top speeds for an extended period of time, their mechanics broke down and some of the gait characteristics that increase injury risk became pronounced. Because of this tendency, incremental training with focus on proper mechanics is necessary to reduce injury risk.

 

 

 

How much wood can a woodpecker peck? The Science Behind a Woodpecker’s Anatomy

Woodpecker anatomy: showing the location of the tongue
Diagram showing the tongue of a woodpecker, obtained from “BirdWatchingDaily.com”

Have you ever wondered how a woodpecker is capable of banging its head against a tree so furiously without seriously injuring itself? The impact of a woodpecker’s beak with a tree can exceed speeds of up to 6 meters per second and occur over 12,000 times a day.These kinds of numbers are what allow woodpeckers to smash through trees to get to those tasty bugs that live inside.

How is this possible you may ask? Scientists have studied the anatomy of a woodpecker and have come across an extraordinary discovery: the tongue of a woodpecker wraps completely around its neck before exiting the mouth, constricting the blood flow to and from the brain. This increases the amount of blood volume in the skull, making it, and its precious cargo, filled to the brim with fluid. This creates an effect known as “slosh mitigation”, where an object that is completely enclosed by an incompressible fluid becomes protected from an outside force due to the constant stabilization of pressure within the enclosed system. Thus, the harsh vibrations translated throughout the skull of the woodpecker are mitigated by a cushioning effect induced by the increased volume of blood in the brain. Ever notice how a snow globe always has a little pocket of air sitting on top of the water? Without it, there would be no pressure changes, and the flakes of snow would be restrained from ever creating that magical snowy blizzard we all love.

This incredible discovery is not just a fascinating fact you can pull out to impress your friends. In fact, companies have begun applying the science behind a woodpecker’s anatomy to the sports arena. A company by the name of Q30 Innovations has been on a mission to curb the estimated 3.8 million concussion occurrences every year. Their latest product, the Q Collar, features a tightly fitted neck brace that applies a mild compression to the jugular in the neck, thus creating the “slosh mitigation” effect on the brain. The Q-Collar has already been put to the test, showing positive results on football players and hockey players. Their latest test showed the effects of wearing the Q-Collar for a high school girls soccer team, whose total head impacts were collected via an accelerometer throughout the entire season. Half the team was selected to wear the Q-Collar, and at the end of the season, the accelerometers of both groups reported similar levels of head impact, both in quantity and severity. However, it was shown the group wearing the Q-Collar required less brain activity to complete a concussion protocol than those of the control group. This shows that despite any of the girls having a reported concussion, the high impact loads exhibited on the brain during the season were enough to prohibit the brain from performing at its optimal level.

Want to learn more about breakthrough technologies covering the challenges of concussions? Learn more at Q30 Innovations.

 

References:

  1. “Do Woodpeckers Get Concussions?”http://explorecuriocity.org/Explore/ArticleId/6734/do-woodpeckers-get-concussions.aspx
  2. “Response of Woodpecker’s Head during Pecking Process Simulated by Material Point Method” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4406624/
  3. “What is a Concussion?” http://www.protectthebrain.org/Brain-Injury-Research/What-is-a-Concussion-.aspx
  4. “Q-Collar tests produce positive results in protecting girl soccer players from concussions” https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/health/q-collar-tests-produce-positive-results-in-protecting-girl-soccer-players-from-concussions

Biomechanics of Pitching: Pushing Limits on the Shoulder and Elbow

Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest recorded baseball pitch at 105.1 MPH; a record that has held for almost a decade. Why has no one been able to top his record? — An answer to this question may be found in the biomechanical limits of the human shoulder and elbow during the throwing motion.

As a little background on the subject, the throwing motion can be broken down into six separate phases: windup, stride, arm cocking, arm acceleration, arm deceleration, and follow-through as can be seen below.

Images depicting the six phases of the throwing motion.
Image from the www.physio-pedia.com article “Throwing Biomechanics”

Of the six phases only two are the main instances of injury: the arm cocking phase and the arm deceleration phase.

Injury can occur in the labrum and rotator cuff in the shoulder, as well as in the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow during the throwing motion. In pitchers the stresses are at their extremes due to the unique positions the arm reaches, thus leading to a higher chance of failure in the muscles and ligaments of the arm.

Torques and forces on the shoulder and elbow at the end of the arm cocking phase.
Image from The American Journal of Sports Medicine article “Kinematics of Baseball Pitching with Implications About Injury Mechanisms” by Fleisig et al.

At the end of the arm cocking phase, the arm is in a position of 160° to 180° from the horizontal and puts the arm in the position to accelerate the ball forward. According to one study, extreme torques of 64 N-m and 67 N-m are applied at the elbow and shoulder, specifically loading the rotator cuff and the UCL. Furthermore, the anterior (forward) force at the shoulder of 310 N loads the labrum in such a way that may cause it to tear. The feeling of these loads is equivalent to holding 60 lbs in your hand in the position shown on the right!

Force and position of the shoulder and elbow during the arm deceleration phase.
Image from The American Journal of Sports Medicine article “Kinematics of Baseball Pitching with Implications About Injury Mechanisms” by Fleisig et al.

During the arm deceleration phase the arm is in a position of 64° from the horizontal and the shoulder resists the extreme speed and acceleration it just endured. An article showed that during the deceleration phase the arm experiences angular velocities in the shoulder of almost 7,000 degrees/sec making it one of the fastest known human motions. That is about 1,200 RPM which is comparable to the rotational speed of some car engines during cruise control, while traveling at about 50 MPH! Additionally, the rotator cuff and the labrum take the brunt of the 1090 N (245 lbs) compressive force needed to slow down the arm and it is enacted in just an instant!

According to one article, the limiting factor on pitch speed is that the force pitchers apply to their UCL is at the limit of what makes it tear. This means that attempting to throw any faster would result in the UCL tearing! In summary, pushing to gain more MPH on the fastball would mean even higher loads and thus more demand from the shoulder and elbow despite already being at their limits.

All in all,  biomechanical data shows that limits in the rotator cuff, labrum, and especially the UCL explain why  Aroldis Chapman’s record has been preserved for almost a decade and why the chances of throwing any faster are almost impossible. However, in the world of sports, limits and impossibilities are just waiting to be broken.

 

Sources and Additional Reading:

“Fastest Baseball Pitch (Male)” https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-baseball-pitch-(male)/

“Kinematics of Baseball Pitching With Implications About Injury Mechanisms” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/036354659502300218

“Biomechanics of baseball pitching: A preliminary report” https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/036354658501300402

“Why It’s Almost Impossible For Fastballs to Get Any Faster” https://www.wired.com/story/why-its-almost-impossible-for-fastballs-to-get-any-faster/

“Throwing Biomechanics” https://www.physio-pedia.com/Throwing_Biomechanics

“Your car’s engine rpm at highway cruising speeds” https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/technical-stuff/171572-your-cars-engine-rpm-highway-cruising-speeds.html

The Spinal Fusion that Reignited a Legendary Career

Can you imagine being the best player in the world at a certain sport and one day, aggravating an injury that not only put your athletic career in doubt, but also did not allow you to do normal daily activities? This is the challenge that faced Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers to ever play the sport but has been plagued with back issues over the past few years that have prevented him from winning and also playing in golf tournaments. A golf swing applies a significant amount torque to one’s back. Repeating this motion as many times as Tiger has, through practice and tournaments since he began his career, caused him to have chronic back issues that had to be dealt with. In order to deal with these back issues, he had three back surgeries over the course of three years. After these, he was still unable to not only golf but also do daily activities without pain such as get out of bed, or play ball with his kids. Tiger was at a crossroads, and decided to get a spinal fusion surgery.

An image of the spine with the three regions labeled: cervical (upper region), thoracic (middle region), lumbar (lower region)
Taken from Wikimedia Commons

The spine has three regions: cervical, thoracic and lumbar. The cervical region is in the upper spine near the neck, the thoracic region is in the middle of the spine and the lumbar region is in the lower back. The lumbar region takes the majority of force in a golf swing and is where Tiger had his fusion done. In the spine, discs are in between each vertebra. The disc acts as a shock absorber and allows for slight mobility of the spine. Tiger had a severely narrowed disc in between two of his vertebrae in the lumbar region due to the previous three back surgeries he had. In order to be pain free, that disc had to be removed. This brought about the discussion of him receiving spinal fusion surgery.

 

Spinal fusion surgery is a process which removes the problematic disc from the spine and inserts a bone graft in place of the disc. A plate with screws is then placed in the vertebrae above and below the bone graft. The plate helps with the healing process and over time, it will heal as one unit. The essential goal of spinal fusion surgery is to take two vertebrae in your spine and make them act as one. When these two vertebrae become one through the surgery, it eliminates motion in between them and hopefully, removes the pain as well.

This is an image of a spinal fusion surgery with screws helping to hold the vertebrae together
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

This spinal fusion surgery was a huge success for Tiger and allowed him to keep playing golf at a high level. Through his win at the 2019 Masters tournament, it’s safe to say that he has at least a few more years of winning tournaments and playing competitive golf before calling it a career.

Additional information and sources used can be found here and here. 

 

Runner’s Knee: Knee Pain Isn’t Just for Old People

Don’t knee problems only plague old people or people who have run for a lifetime? I questioned this when, for the seventh time in a row, my knee was hurting only a mile and a half into my run. I’m too young for this! However, a plethora of information suggests that knee pain is perhaps not so uncommon in younger runners and athletes as I thought.

The American Family Physican published an article detailing one form of knee injury informally called “Runner’s Knee”. A shockingly high number, between 16 and 25 percent, of running related injuries fall into this categorization. Medically termed patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), the ailment manifests in pain or stiffness in the knee, particularly when bent in load-bearing scenarios such as walking, running, jumping, or squatting. The patellar region experiences shocking loads even in the day to day: in walking alone the region experiences up to a half the person’s body weight while in an activity like squatting it can experience up to seven times one’s body weight. Often the pain is hard to pinpoint but occurs in or around the front of the knee within a circular range. It can inhibit or put a stop to training, however, if addressed early on, can often be healed or corrected much more quickly.

an animated image of a runner mid-stride with the pain region for patellofemoral pain syndrome highlighted
Photo by www.scientificanimations.com from Wikimedia Commons

In PFPS, the patella (the kneecap) moves abnormally within the groove on the end of the femur (called the femoral trochlear groove) due to imbalanced or unusual loads on the joint. This results in over-stressing the joint and causing pain. Several possible causes exist for PFPS; here, I will focus on three of most commonly cited: increased intensity of activity, weak hip muscles, and overpronation.

an image of the muscular and skeletal structure of the knee, including the patella
Photo by BruceBlaus on Wikimedia Commons

Increased Activity

One review explored that women are more likely to suffer from PFPS. In this study they saw that women of higher activity levels were not necessarily more likely to experience pain due to PFPS than women who had a lower activity level. Rather, a substantial increase in activity level seemed to be the cause of pain. Therefore, more than overuse of muscles or joints, PFPS often develops with increased amounts of activity, or temporary overuse, such that the body is not prepared to handle the increased and repetitive forces on the knee.

Weakness in Hip Muscle Strength 

This study shows that lower extremity mechanics and motion can be affected by hip strength. For example, inward rotation of the hip can be lessened through strengthening of hip muscles that counteract that rotation. With less internal hip rotation, the knee abduction moment (the tendency of the knee, due to reaction forces from the ground, to rotate  inward and away from the balanced midline of the knee joint) decreased which often resulted in less stress in the knee. Therefore, the review suggests that strengthening hip muscles can lower the patellofemoral joint stress and help treat PFPS. 

Overpronation

Pronation refers to the natural movement of one’s foot and ankle slightly inward while stepping. When the ankle rotates too far inwards, it is called overpronation. Overpronation can lead to further improper structural alignment in the lower body as the tibia rotates improperly in response to the ankle rotation. The tibia’s rotation then disrupts the natural movement of the patellar joint and can contribute to PFPS. In many cases, overpronation can be corrected through use of orthotic shoe inserts that prevent the over-rotation of the foot and ankle.

In conclusion, while we may often associate knee problems with older people or arthritis, PFPS affects many athletes, particularly runners, at any age. Often, proper training programs that do not accelerate activity too quickly, strengthening exercises that focus on the hip muscles, and proper, overpronation-correcting footwear can treat or prevent an individual from being affected by PFPS. Check out some strengthening exercises here.

What’s more important for athletes: training or genetics?

Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky are arguably some of the greatest athletes of all time. You watch them on the television breaking record, winning titles or making impossible shots, and you can’t help to wonder, how are they that good? Do they use some secret training method, maybe even a special diet? Possibly, they are genetically gifted? Sports author David Epstein tackles this debate of training versus genetics in his book, “The Sports Gene”. Yes, athletes need to practice to become good, but some are just going to be naturally better than others. If you are 5’6” inches you are going to have to practice dunking a basketball a lot longer than someone who 6’6”. To see how some athletes are naturally better than others lets look at some talented athletes and see what makes them biomechanical specimens. First, we’ll look at Michael Phelps, an American swimmer who not only has multiple world records but also the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 Olympic medals.

 

For swimmers, biomechanics have found the ideal body for performance. Body features that have been found helpful for swimming is a long torso and long arms.  The long torso reduces the drag on the swimmer and long arms allow for more powerful strokes. Michael Phelps’, who is 6’4”, has the torso proportions of someone who is 6’8” and the leg proportions of someone who is 5’9”, giving him an extremely high torso-to-leg ratio. Not only is Phelps’ torso long, but he also has a long wingspan, measured at 6’7”. Along with Phelps’ unreal proportions, his feet are another huge advantage when it comes to swimming. His size 14 feet help place more force into the water when he kicks. This is a benefit because 90% of a swimmer’s thrust comes from their feet. His ankles also hyperextend 15-degree when he kicks, creating more force. Biomechanically, Michael Phelps’s is a walking fish.

Modified from Hart Blenkinsop, Michael Phelps: The man who was built to be a swimmer 2014

You might be wondering, what would happen if you took someone who has trained to mastery and put them up against someone who is just perfectly gifted. David Epstein mentions this scenario in his book a battle between training and genetics. In the 2007 world high jump final, there are two jumpers left, Stefan Holm and Donald Thomas. Stefan Holm, has a personal best of 7’10.5”, only 2 inches off the world record. Holm has been training most of his life, since he was a child and even won the previous Olympic High Jump final. He is also 5’10” tall, which is very small for a high jumper. Donald Thomas, has a personal best of 7’8.5”. Thomas, on the other hand, is 6’3” and has been jumping for a little over a year and had started high jumping because of a bet with a friend. The two finish the completion and Thomas won clearing a 7’8.5” bar. Even though Holm’s technique was near perfect, Thomas just had the athletic edge. Being taller, Thomas already had a higher center of gravity meaning he had to travel less distance to get over the bar. Thomas also had much longer legs and Achilles tendon. This allows him to store and transfer much more energy into a jump. Thomas was just made to win.

 

For more information:

Michael Phelps: The man who was built to be a swimmer

Nature or Nurture?

Will Removing Headgear Make Boxing Safer?

Our brains are made of a very soft material but luckily our skulls provide the brain protection from the outside world. However, during violent movements the brain is free to move inside the skull and collide with the skull. This impact can cause injury to the brain, known as a concussion, that can lead to various symptoms depending on severity. A 2014 paper by McIntosh et al. researched the biomechanics of concussions for Australian football players. Their research showed that a linear acceleration of 88.5 g to the head results in a 75% likelihood of a concussion. A g is the unit of acceleration and a single g is equivalent to the force of gravity at the Earth’s surface.

A very serious long-term effect of brain injury is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy known as CTE. Additional reading on CTE can be found here. Proper care must be taken to ensure the long-term health of contact sport athletes. Some contact sports utilize protective equipment such as helmets or mouth guards. However, the world of amateur boxing went a very different route to prevent brain injuries. An article by the New York Times reviews the International Boxing Association’s (A.I.B.A.) decision to remove headgear from international, male boxing competitions. In 2016, Olympic boxers entered the ring without headgear for the first time since 1984 according to the article. Apparently, this seemingly counterintuitive decision makes boxing safer. A cross-sectional study by the A.I.B.A. Medical Commission found there were more stoppages, caused by hard hits to the head, in fights with headgear. In fact, the data suggests that boxing without headgear lowers the chance of a stopped fight by 43%.

The A.I.B.A. claims that headgear did little to prevent brain injuries, however, there is counter research that refutes the A.I.B.A.’s claim. For example, a study by McIntosh and Patton researched the capability of A.I.B.A.-approved headgear to protect against injury. A glove was mounted to a driver and a Hybrid III head was used to record the head accelerations at different contact points and speeds. According to this study, head accelerations were significantly reduced by the headgear.

Boxing glove on piston delivering punch to a crash test dummy head
Modified from McIntosh & Patton, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015

Headgear by no means prevents all concussions, for example, when the glove speed reached 8.34 m/s in the previously mentioned McIntosh and Patton study. Without headgear, the head experienced 133 g from a punch to the side of the head and 131 g from a punch to the front center of the head. With headgear, the head experienced 86 g from the lateral punch and 88 g from a punch to the front center of the head. The results showed there is a chance those with headgear could develop a concussion. However, without headgear, a concussion is guaranteed.

Headgear will not prevent all concussions but it can significantly decrease the chances of getting one. At some point, the force will surpass the protective capability of the headgear. Both sides of the argument present interesting and compelling data. In short, boxing is a contact sport. There will most likely always be a chance the athletes could develop brain injury.  In order to ensure the safety of the athletes, it is important to make decisions based on their health with definitive proof it protects them. The video below shows different sides to the debate.

 

 

 

The Unfair Advantage: Prosthetics and Their Role in the Olympics

In 2012, the “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Ever since this historic occasion, the issue of whether prosthetics should be allowed in athletics has been a topic of controversy in the media. Do prosthetics give amputees an advantage over able-bodied athletes? Are athletes with prosthetics capable of running faster and performing better than able-bodied athletes?

Oscar Pristorius strapped into a harness and being tested on a treadmill by Alena Grabowski's research team.
Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice, ScienceDaily 2008

In a recent article, physiology and biomechanics professor Alena Grabowski attempts to answer some of these questions. Grabowski was part of a research group that conducted a study to see if Pistorius’s prosthetics gave him any advantages after he was banned from competing in the 2008 Olympics. The group focused on comparing the abilities of Pistorius to those of able-bodied track athletes. The study involved testing Pistorius’ energy cost in running, his endurance, and his general running mechanics. In order to test for energy costs, the researchers measured breathing and metabolic rates of able-bodied runners who were similar in ability to Pistorius as they ran a series of short sprints. To test endurance, runners were placed on treadmills set at their max speed to measure how long they could maintain that speed. To test the running mechanics, each runner was asked to continue increasing their speed on a treadmill until they could no longer take eight consecutive strides on the treadmill without maintaining their position on the treadmill. Based on the study, the group was able to determine that Pistorius’ running abilities are very similar to able-bodied runners, thus allowing his ban to be lifted and for him to ultimately compete in the 2012 Olympics.

The three variations of prosthetics used in Alena Grabkowski's prosthetic parameters research.
Photo from The Royal Society Publishing 2017

After the initial research, Grabowski decided to conduct research of her own into prosthetics. Her study involved how changing key parameters in a prosthetic affected a runner’s abilities. In order to conduct the tests, she first modeled the foot as a spring system. This allowed her to pick the key parameters to change: stiffness, height, and speed of a prosthetic. Five participants were chosen to be tested. The study consisted of a participant using a set prosthetic to run on a treadmill, increasing the speed on each trial until they could no longer hold their position in the treadmill. This was repeated for different parameter changes in the prosthetics until enough data was collected to compare. From her study, Grabowski found that the length of the prosthetic had no overall effect on running speed. However, stiffness did appear to aid runners, but the effects were negligible at high running speeds. Thus, the advantages of having prosthetics come into play more for long distance running than for sprints. Based on her research finding, Grabowski hopes that future prosthetic development can be more tailored to match the specific wearers abilities before amputation.

The world of prosthetics opens up the door for many amputees to compete in an able-bodied society: from being able to complete just simple day-to-day tasks to competing alongside able-bodied athletes in the Olympics. Though many may still be skeptical of the use of prosthetics in competition—namely running, the evidence says that the effects are minimal or even no-existent in the case of sprinters. With the help of researchers like Alena Grabowski, more athletes like Oscar Pistorius are and hopefully will be making great strides in the future.

For more information on this story, make sure to read The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and The New York Times.

Gainz for Dayz: Conventional vs Sumo Deadlift

What’s the best way to pick stuff up and put it back down?

A large tattooed man deadlifting enough weight to bend the bar in the conventional form.
Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

By deadlifting, of course.  The deadlift is, arguably, one of the most important exercises a weight lifter can perform.  Although primarily thought of as a lower body exercise, the deadlift activates muscles throughout the entire body, and is one of the three all-important lifts for any lifting routine.  Although there are a variety of different deadlift form variations, two of the most prevalent are the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift.  The main difference between these two stiles is that in the conventional deadlift, the hands are placed on the outside of the knees, while sumo deadlifting places the knees outside of the hand.  The everlasting debate is therefore which form is the better one?

In attempt to answer this, tracking data was used to employ a biomechanical analysis of these two forms of deadlifting. One of the biggest differences they found was in the distance that the bar had to travel from the beginning of the lift to the completion of the lift.  In the sumo deadlift, the significantly wider foot stance results in a 19% decrease in the distance the bar must travel, decreasing the amount of work that the lifter needs to use.  It therefore seems that the conventional deadlift, if it requires more work, is the better form, right?  Well, maybe.  The researchers also found that the sumo deadlift conveyed a biomechanical advantages compared to the conventional deadlift.  This was mostly due to a more upright trunk at the beginning of the lift, resulting in less trunk extension being required to complete the lift, although it consequently may require more flexibility to perform.  This in turn decreases the moments of the bottom two vertebrae and shear forces on them, and the sumo deadlift therefore seems to have a safety advantage over the conventional deadlift.

The postures of athletes performing the conventional and sumo deadlifts as determined by tracking body points through video footage.
Modified from McGuigan and Wilson, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 1996

But what about muscles?  What should you do if you want to gain strength by pushing your muscles to work harder?  As the study showed, the conventional deadlift needs an increased amount of energy to complete, but are all the muscles used in the two forms the same?  Researchers at Duke University Medical Center decided to use electromyography (EMG) to find out.  They found that the wider stance assumed in the sumo deadlift, besides conveying the safety advantages mentioned above, also resulted in an increased recruitment of some of the lower body muscles.  Namely, the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis, and the tibialis anterior, or the outer (and strongest) and inner thigh muscles as well as the shin muscle.  The conventional deadlift recruited only the medial gastrocnemius (inner calf) significantly more than the sumo deadlift.  The recruitment of the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis make sense, since having your feet placed more directly under you in conventional deadlift would tend to recruit the more central thigh muscles.

With all of the above, it looks like sumo be the better option: it decreases stress on the back, recruits more lower body muscles, and indirectly places a focus on flexibility.  However, if you’re not convinced, Men’s Journal, BarBend, and Starting Strength provide some additional commentary comparing these two methods.

For the following video provides a better explanation of the differences in form between the two styles of deadlift.

 

Back Against the (John) Wall

What would you do if you went to the doctor expecting to get back to work, only to be told you might not ever be able to go back to work again?

According to ESPN, on February 4, John Wall visited his doctor regarding an infection in his heel after a previous operation. The doctor checked the infection, but upon further analysis, realized that Wall had suffered a partial Achilles tear. Unlike former teammate Boogie Cousins, he did not suffer the tear on the court, but at home. It was reported that while at home he fell and experienced extra discomfort in his heel. His doctor reported that he will undergo surgery and will likely rehab for the next 11 to 15 months.

Achilles Ache

The Achilles is a tendon (tissue that attaches muscle to bone) connecting the bottom of one’s calf to the back of the heel, as shown in Figure 1. It is famously named after the Greek hero whose only weakness was the back of his heel.

An Achilles tendon attached to the heel and calf (Soleus).
Figure 1: This shows the lower half of a human’s leg, where the Achilles tendon is attached to both the heel and calf (Soleus). Modified from Wikimedia Commons.

According to “The Achilles tendon: fundamental properties and mechanisms governing healing” by Freedman et al, the Achilles tendon is the strongest and largest tendon in the entire body, and can bear up to 3500N, or almost 800lb, before completely rupturing. This is a result of the materials that the Achilles is made of. The tendon is 90% collagen, which forms a structure full of fibers that are bound together by other molecules. The tendon is 2% elastin, which like the name suggests, adds some elastic, or stretchy, properties. The tendon is sometimes characterized as a viscoelastic material, meaning it has both viscous (slow to deform) and elastic properties. However, the Achilles is mostly elastic, allowing it to bear relatively high impacts and loads.

Healing the Heel

The Achilles, much like other tendons and ligaments, has interesting healing characteristics and procedures. There are two common recoveries for a tear in the Achilles: a surgery that stitches the ends of the tears together followed by rehabilitation, or a period of rest followed by rehabilitation. For a full tear, surgery is very common, as the torn tendon ends are not always spatially close enough for natural healing processes to occur. For a partial tear, a doctor in consultation with the patient will decide which of the two options will be best.

Experimental Excitement

While there is much more to study with regards to Achilles tear recovery, there is a lot of exciting research being performed on animal models. One study shows that stretching and compressing the Achilles at certain angles during recovery may lead to better long term health of the Achilles. Another study shows the efficacy of stem cell therapies. A third study shows the usefulness of incorporating a 3D printed structure to integrate the ends of torn Achilles. Essentially, this would connect each end with a scaffold that allows for the reintegration of the tendon. This is very similar to an experimental ACL reconstruction technique called BEAR. A video about BEAR can be seen below.

Although John Wall’s career may be in doubt, the future for effective therapies in treating Achilles related injuries is promising. This is exciting for the future, and hopefully will make for a better patient experience. To read more about the Achilles, click here or here.