Using Biomechanics for Safe & Efficient Exercise

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson you explore ways to use biomechanics for safe and efficient exercise. You define biomechanics and you learn how they apply to some of the most popular sports in the world. You also learn about types of muscles and muscle movements.

Biomechanics Explained

Who has not been playing a sport that we love, perhaps softball or kickball, when they twisted an ankle or sprained a knee? Every sport has its perils, but there are ways you may lessen the chances that an injury will occur by applying concepts found in sports science. Biomechanics is a science that relates to the study of the movement or structure of living organisms. Kinesiology is a related term and is the study of body movement mechanics. Understanding the dynamics of movement, and the force applied to create movement, can result in better form, and thereby, better movement.

Biomechanics studies form and movement

'Creative Commons Lockney2IMG_9474_1' by Paul Roberts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Safety is in essence using good form when exercising, which, if you think about it, is applying correct biomechanical principles: if you are applying good force, your form and movement will also be good, which greatly reduces the risk of injury. Efficiency refers to what degree subjects move both safely and effectively.

Muscle Movement

If we are going to discuss injury prevention, we must first know the basic types of movements. There are three basic types of actions involved with the muscles and the ability to generate force:

  • isometric - There is no actual change in muscle length. For example, holding a deep knee lunge position for 30 seconds without moving.
  • isotonic - There is a change in muscle length, with an eccentric move lengthening the muscle and a concentric move shortening the muscle. The vast majority of gym exercises are isotonic. For example, a pushup has a down movement and an up movement.
  • isokinetic - There is a change in muscle length against resistance, with the rate of speed remaining constant. For example, a lat pulldown machine for the back in which the lifter could not speed up or slow down. Most gyms cannot afford these machines.

Antagonistic and Agonistic Muscles

We would be remiss not to clarify that muscles often work in pairs. For example, when bending the elbow the triceps would be the antagonistic muscle and the biceps would be the agonistic muscle. It is crucial to understand this when discussing injuries to the body because a deficiency in one of the two muscles can create an imbalance. This is also important because as the athlete becomes more fatigued the muscles can work together to stabilize joints such as the knee.

Biomechanics in Practice

Biomechanics are extremely sport specific. In layman's terms, that means that the techniques, or movements, necessary to jump over a high jump bar are extremely different than those required to hit a tennis ball. In fact, no two sports are the same. There may be similarities, for example, between pitching a softball underhanded and pitching a horseshoe, but, even then, the biomechanics of those two sports are not identical.

Three of the most common sports in America and the world are yoga, weightlifting, and running, and they can be used to demonstrate the unique biomechanics applied in each sport to obtain maximum safety and efficiency.


Yoga is one of the most popular exercise methods in the world, and the number of poses and biomechanical movements and positions seems endless. A beginner could easily be injured trying to impress his friends or attempting to do a pose beyond his capabilities. In fact, some yoga instructors have developed safer 'modified moves' that are less conducive to injury. Three of the most common yoga injuries occur to the hamstrings (back of the legs), the wrists, and the lower back. Hamstring injuries can be avoided by never forcing any moves and by keeping the knees 'soft', not rigid. Wrist injuries can be reduced by keeping them aligned and spreading the fingers, which distributes the weight. Lower back injuries can be avoided by 'lengthening the spine' during movements so as not to compress the back. Ultimately by understanding the biomechanics of yoga and utilizing correct form the chance of injury may be reduced.

Correct Yoga Form May Prevent Injury

'Creative Commons Beach Yoga' by Flavio is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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