Songs of movement

Optoelectronic techniques and video, force platforms, electromyography: the analysis of human movement requires state–of-the–art technology. Opened in March 2012, the LAMH (Human Movement Analysis Laboratory) will focus on sporting performance and the prevention of injuries to athletes as well as neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, the design of prosthetic limbs and questions of a civil engineering nature such as the effect of walking on certain structures.

On the faded photograph, one is standing, with his chest leaning forward slightly; another with his arms apart and his knees bent in profile; a third is on all fours. Soon the starter will fire the starting pistol and release the athletes. It is 1896 in Athens, where the first modern Olympic Games took place, and the athletes who are ready to battle it out over the legendary distance of 100 meters are unaware that their starting posture is a determining factor in giving a good performance. This is because the science of biomechanics is only in its infancy at this time.


In the second half of the 19th century, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) became famous for his Photographic breakdown of movement. His technique, chronophotography, which is a method that consists in fixing the successive images of a movement on a single photographic medium, inspired the physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey, professor at the Collège de France who was one of the pioneers of the scientific approach to the analysis of movement. Marey began his studies by carrying out research on animals. In this way he « filmed » the flight of birds or the galloping of a horse. He then focused his interest on human locomotion. One of his main contributions was the placing of markers on the clothes of volunteers who aided him in his work. The-Horse-in-Motion-MuybridgeInterest in this method has never waned because the current optoelectronic systems involve the placing of markers on the skin of subjects which biomechanics scientists use to analyze their movements.

Today a Professor Emeritus, Simon Bouisset was in charge of the Laboratory for the Physiology of Movement at the Paris–Sud University. He described biomechanics as the « reasoned study of phenomena of movement in humans and animals ». This definition has the merit of being not merely a definition with a mechanical vision and underlines the necessity of ultimately involving movement in its neurosensory context.

The illusion of an ideal movement

Biomechanical scientists agree that there is no ideal movement towards which athletes should strive – high-level sport is the preferred area for analysis of movement -, but there is only an optimal movement for a given athlete at a given time. In other words, the efficiency of a technique like throwing the javelin or a golfer’s swing is not the result of some enduring technique which must be learned like a child’s nursery rhyme but rather a combination of strength, experience and physical and mental aptitude of the athlete at the moment of the action. Does this mean that all research into individual movement techniques should be frowned upon? Of course it does not. “There are performance parameters that biomechanics tries to bring out, for example, all other things being equal, tennis players with the most rapid services are those who bring the shoulder through an external rotation through a given amount of degrees and who position the body in a certain way. We can therefore try to optimize these parameters but only within the limits of the morphology proper to each individual athlete “, explains Bénédicte Forthomme, assistant lecturer at the Department of Motricity Science at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Liège (ULg) and a member of the recently created Human Movement Analysis Laboratory (LAMH)

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