USF Launches Motion Analysis Lab

In new lab, kinesiology students help athletes improve performance

by Evan Elliot, USF News

“Do your knees ache when you run? Do your ankles hurt when you jump?”

Gerwyn Hughes wants to know. He’s a professor of kinesiology and he runs the new motion analysis lab in Harney Science Center at USF.

In the lab, which opened this semester, Hughes and kinesiology students analyze how people move when they play or exercise. The analysis can help people improve their performance and avoid injury. 

“Derrick Rose? The basketball player? He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee,” said Hughes. “I want to help today’s athletes avoid that injury — and any injury.”

Cameras and Sensors
The motion analysis lab comprises 10 cameras and two force plates. The cameras measure movement and the plates measure load. Hughes and his students tape dime-sized sensors to athletes’ bodies and then ask the athletes to do what they do — jump or kick or turn or swing or throw.

Hughes and the students then analyze the athletes’ motions and suggest ways to enhance performance.

“If you play basketball or soccer and you land with your knees too straight, you risk injury,” Hughes said. “If you bend them about 10 degrees, that reduces your risk of injury. If you land with your knees close together, you increase the strain on your ligaments. If you land with your knees about as far apart as your shoulders, that’s better.”

Hughes knows sports injuries. He played rugby as an undergraduate at Swansea University in Wales. “One day in a training session, one of my friends is running with the ball and all of a sudden he collapses in a heap,” Hughes said. “He tore his ACL.” 

Hands-On Learning
The motion analysis lab is a teaching lab as well as a research lab, Hughes said. For the past two weeks, the students in his biomechanics class (KIN 350) have used the lab’s force plates to study jumping and landing. They take turns studying each other.

“Jump straight up and down versus jumping to the side or jumping at an angle — we’re studying different landing styles,” said Dominic Espinoza ’24, a kinesiology major in Hughes’ class.  

Blake Wittman ’25, another student in the class, is a pitcher on the USF baseball team. In the lab, he threw baseballs to analyze his pitching motion.

 “On the field, I’m looking for any advantage I can get,” Wittman said. And in the field of biomechanics, he said, he’s looking for skills he can use in the work he hopes to do as a director of pitching development for a Major League Baseball team.

“This lab is professional-grade,” Espinoza added. “It gives us a leg up for graduate school and for work after graduate school.”