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Scientists begin to unravel rowers’ secret of pulling together successfully

Researchers have recently gained funding for the UK’s first rowing research programme, which aims to reveal the secrets of the best and safest rowing technique. Thanks to funding from the Henley Stewards Charitable Trust and assistance from the British International Rowing Office (through UK Sport) they are contributing to improving top rowers’ performance with the development of a biofeedback system that gives instant visual feedback on their rowing technique. This helps to harmonise their movements with fellow rowers, while at the same time avoiding the causes of lower back pain.
From Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine :Scientists begin to unravel rowers’ secret of pulling together successfully

Helping safeguard the back from injury

Researchers at Imperial College London have recently gained funding for the UK’s first rowing research programme, which aims to reveal the secrets of the best and safest rowing technique.

Thanks to funding from the Henley Stewards Charitable Trust and assistance from the British International Rowing Office (through UK Sport) they are contributing to improving top rowers’ performance with the development of a biofeedback system that gives instant visual feedback on their rowing technique. This helps to harmonise their movements with fellow rowers, while at the same time avoiding the causes of lower back pain.

The results of the three-year project, involving oarsmen from Great Britain’s men’s and women’s Olympic rowing teams and local club level rowers, will be of interest to rowers of all ages and abilities. In the longer term the research may help participants in other sports that make intensive use of the lower back, for example horse-riding, canoeing, golf, cycling, cricket (bowling) and tennis (serving).

The project draws upon the combined expertise of Imperial scientists, engineers, physiotherapists and also coaches from the Great Britain squad to ensure that results of the research translate into a competitive edge at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Using an experimental system housed at the specially equipped Biodynamics laboratory at Imperial College’s Charing Cross campus in Fulham, west London, rowers are wired up with sensors measuring the relative positions of their legs, pelvis and various points on their lower back. During a typical assessment session rowers are given a series of rowing tests to perform at increasingly higher intensity.

Athletes immediately see their technique highlighted through the ‘stick man’ feedback system giving them a visual display of how their back is moving while rowing, and following analysis with the coach and physiotherapist, can work on correcting their technical faults back in the boat with a clear image in mind.

“We’ve successfully defined the key factors that make up good rowing technique, and now our goal is to translate that scientific knowledge into something that helps improve performance and reduces injuries in the sport,” said Dr Alison McGregor, leader of the research project at Imperial.

“We’re taking the knowledge we’ve gained back to rowers at every level to help them understand what they should feel, and for coaches, what they should see. This biofeedback system is a key communications tool between athlete, coach and physiotherapist.” “One of the key lessons we’ve learnt is the importance of developing the balance of muscles in the lower back area and the strength of the muscles of the lower abdominal area. If rowers are not in control of muscles in the pelvis and bottom of the trunk then they are really putting themselves at risk of injury through poor technique.”

“Already we are finding that there is a real benefit to taking preventative steps to correct technique,” she added. “Since we have been running the programme with the Great Britain women’s rowing team in May 2002, no major back problems have emerged in the athletes taking part and in recent flat-out ergometer tests, six athletes in the group set personal bests.”

The Henley Stewards Charitable Trust funding award of UKP81,000, over three years, will allow the research team to develop their novel monitoring equipment and feedback software further, and also provide funding for the UK’s first ‘rowing research fellow’, Dr Jeremy Loh.

Dr Loh, a bioengineer, is working on the development of a new specially-adapted rowing machine – an ‘ergometer’ – using feedback gained from the athletes in recent trials.

“The Stewards are very proud to be associated with this important and innovative research into the best and safest technique of rowing. This work can be crucial for the future health and well being of rowers, both in this country and throughout the world,” said Mr Mike Sweeney, Chairman of the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta.

The Imperial College Trust, UK Sport in association with British International Rowing and the Arthritis Research Campaign also fund research in the Biodynamics group.

The team also has collaborations with researchers at the University of Cork, Ireland, (statistical analysis of rowing performance) and the University of Cambridge (signal processing techniques).




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