How valid is lab-based experimentation in human sport performance? Golf example – Prof Ian Kenny.

When we test athletes in the laboratory, we are placing them in an alien environment, often watched by several researchers while they perform their sports task, while we measure their athletic performance. Usually, it is needed because we can somewhat control the laboratory environment. Sometimes though we need to consider by how much we might alter the athlete’s performance compared to how they would perform in their natural ‘field’ setting. I take a quick look here at some data from a recent golf case-study scenario….

Figure 1_ik blog Nov 22

The effect of skin markers on golf driving performance

The use of and problems encountered whilst using reflective skin markers on anatomical landmarks to represent joint centres of location and geometric centre of mass of body segments have been well documented (e.g., Camomilla et al, 2017). However, those problems focus mainly on skin movement artefact, and identification of anatomical landmarks. Additionally, not all camera systems require skin surface markers. It is worthwhile identifying the influence skin surface markers have on the athlete, and driving performance, during the golf swing.

A single-subject analysis was conducted where an elite right-handed male golfer (+1 handicap, 25 yrs., 1.80 m tall, 91.3 kg body mass) performed 16 shots in a laboratory environment using their own driver; 8 shots without skin surface markers and 8 shots with 34 skin surface markers attached (see Figure 1). The reason we often place reflective skin surface markers on athletes is to allow some types of high-speed cameras to track body motion to see how the athlete performs the task. Two ball launch monitors recorded club head and ball impact characteristics including club head speed, clubface orientation, ball speed, backspin, sidespin component, ball launch angle and swing tempo. The presence of markers had a significant effect in terms of ball speed, ball backspin and sidespin. Average ball speed for shots performed without markers attached was 66.7 ± 0.93 m/s compared to 69.1 ± 0.85 m/s with markers. It seems there was an artificial increase in ball speed performance with markers on but with a decrease in shot accuracy…. ball sidespin component (making the ball deviate left or right) immediately after impact was shown to increase with the addition of markers (see Table 1).

Table 1_ik blog Nov 22

Conclusions: Skin surface markers influences golf driving performance. We often need to consider the influence of the laboratory environment, what we ask athletes to do or wear in this unfamiliar scenario, and how that might affect their psychology and outcome performance.



Professor Ian Kenny is an Associate Professor in Biomechanics in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Ian’s research interests include the biomechanics of sports injury and sports medicine, effects of equipment parameters on the golf swing, and musculoskeletal modelling and computer simulation of movement.

Contact Ian:   @IanCKenny  ResearchGate

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