Hold off on those static, pre-game stretches learned at high school before leaping into sports this weekend - they may be a significant factor in the next-day hobble. Adyn Ogle talks to Dr Kim Hebert-Losier who has some tips for athletes of all abilities after studying the world's fastest man.
Denouncing static stretching is one of the fascinating pieces of information derived from research that looked at the movements of superstar athlete Usain Bolt, carried out by Dr Kim Hebert-Losier.
Hebert-Losier is based at Mount Maunganui's University of Waikato's Adams Centre for High Performance, the home of organisations such as the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union and New Zealand Sevens. It's also in the heart of Mount Maunganui's sporting belt, surrounded by Blake Park, which is home to cricket, hockey, rugby, sevens and touch.
I chat with Hebert-Losier in the building's shared lunch room before making our way to the lab. We make our way inside where there are cameras, lights, computers, crash pads and plenty of equipment not easily recognisable to us everyday folk.
A frame of some description looks like it could house the Batsuit and I would later discover the tape on the floor were lines for runners to follow during testing. PhD student Ivana Hanzlikova demonstrates one of the tests which included reacting to one of a handful of lights and then steping in that direction on the run.
Hebert-Losier trained as a physiotherapist in Canada before completing her PhD in Dunedin and then moving to the Adams Centre two years ago. She has a heap of world-class research under her belt and is hoping to play her role in delivering vital information relevant to the weekend warrior, and the world's best athletes alike.
One of her marquee pieces of research is breaking down the movements of Bolt, world champion sprinter and eight-time Olympic gold medallist whose best 100m is recorded at 9.58s.
Hebert-Losier had done work for the Swedish Olympic Committee and it was that connection which led to her involvement in a project studying the world's fastest man. An international collaboration used high-speed footage, 300 frames per second, of Bolt competing in a race in Croatia in 2011.
"I have always been fascinated by the way people move," Dr Hebert-Losier says.
"I used to play football but, when my lack of skills came through, I took up running. I am a passionate runner and I have run 11 marathons.
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"Coming from a clinical background, there was always that focus on how we can prevent injury or get people to move better so they can perform better. It didn't matter if they were the recreational athlete, development athlete or the high-level athlete."
Studying Bolt's abilities on the track uncovered some fascinating insights and she's now sharing that information to help athletes back here.
"There is software that can identify key joints and segments, then you can look at things like joint velocity, speed, acceleration, vertical displacement as well as stride length and stride frequency."
The software uses motion capture data that portrays the subject on the screen as a collection of dots or a slightly creepy skeleton.
"One of the key things that came from the research is how strong he is. The amount of force he was able to put down into the ground was superior to most of his competitors. For every step he takes, he puts 4.2 times his body weight of force into the ground. He takes on average 41 steps to cover 100m and most of his competitors take between 45-49 steps."
Information gathering and the expert analysis Hebert-Losier and her colleagues did was only part of the battle. She says it was seven years between the footage being captured and the research document being published.
"That is one of the limitations of academia. There have recently been documents published that say it takes 10-15 years from when the research comes out for it to be integrated into practice. We know things and then it takes that amount of time to get it out there."
The challenge is making that information accessible and relevant to people in the community. On April 11 the university, and others around New Zealand, ran the third annual National Biomechanics Day. The event in Tauranga had 150 secondary school students at the Adams Centre where some of the principles learned in the Bolt study were on show.
"It is an initiative where we encourage high school students to come and explore what biomechanics is and how we can use it in everyday life. Here we had 150 students to the centre and they participated in three interactive stations."
Further understanding of how the body works has led to dispelling some long-held ideas.
"Stretching before exercise is one of the worst things you can do as part of warm-up," Hebert-Losier says.
"Holding a stretch for 30 seconds before you go out and exercise reduces strength flexibility and reduces your ability to jump, to sprint and your endurance. It also increases your risk of injury.
"Now we understand that it is one of the worst things you can do. It is okay if you do dynamic stretching, when you are not holding that static stretch.
"It is just translating how we get research into everyday practice. We are trying to bridge that gap, so that it is not just the scientists that know."
Hebert-Losier says injury prevention is obviously in everybody's interest and says there are a lot more people undertaking research and new ways of thinking have been developed around injury, including rehabilitation.
"It used to be that when you ruptured your Achilles tendon, they would put you in a cast up to your hip for six weeks, then a cast up to your knee for six weeks and three months later your ankle is stiff. That was the treatment protocol.
"Now within three days you can put weight on your heel, wearing a protective brace, but we understand that movement is good for rehabilitation and you need to load structures for them to heal and if you protect them too much, you are doing it a disservice.
"It is all that knowledge that, at the time we thought we were doing what was best, now we are teaching what we think is the best. In five years' time it might not be the same, but at least we are doing the best we can with the knowledge we have."
Hebert-Losier and her team have ongoing projects and they are looking for participants.
"We are looking at injury risk factors for anterior cruciate ligament injuries which are very common in netball, hockey and rugby. We are always looking for people to come into the lab and we give them an individual report.
"The university has a lecture series and we do community outreach sessions. At that younger age is when you want those good habits to form. You want to foster holistic development and functional movement. There is a lot of research now about the detriment in over-specialisation in a given sport.
"We need to be careful. Movement is good and movements in different sports and loading the body in different ways is really good for you in terms of preventing injury and development. Often people get injured, your body adapts to the stresses you place on it.
"The body will unadapt fairly quickly. All of a sudden you went from nothing to three times a week. Those initial two weeks are the highest injury rates, because we are not gradual in terms of readapting to the load we want to place on our bodies."
Hebert-Losier says doing smaller sessions more frequently is good practice.
"If you are a runner you are better off doing 2km three times a week than you are doing 6km. It doesn't have to be long, just going out two mornings a week is fine. Building up tolerance is important as is building gradually."
Associate professor and University of Waikato acting dean of Te Huataki Waiora Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance Kirsten Petrie says the work Hebert-Losier is doing is important.
"Dr Kim Hebert-Losier's research in biomechanics is not only focused on elite athletes but contributes to helping all sorts of members of our community, be they a weekend warrior, a school netball player, or a elderly person whose balance has been compromised, to understand how to move their body in a way that means it is more efficient and less prone to injury.
"In Te Hautaki Waiora we are keen to ensure our research contributes to the performance and wellbeing of our communities, and Dr Hebert-Losier is part of how we make a difference."
For every step Usain Bolt takes, he puts 4.2 times his body weight of force into the ground.
He takes on average 41 steps to cover 100m and most of his competitors take between 45 and 49 steps.
At a height of 1.95m, he debunks the thought that sprinters need to be smaller and need a centre of mass to be close to the ground.