The starting block at the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science looks much like any other – but it is the first of its kind in the world and is helping swimmers get a head start in the pool.
Researchers at the School are using a specially-designed starting block to help elite swimmers go straight from the start of the gun.
The block, which cost more than $20,000, has been divided into two, with two force plates that can separately measure the forces coming from each foot when swimmers launch themselves into water.
"We have electronically-designed load cells in the force plates which record how much force is exerted on the block in the horizontal (forward), vertical (upwards) and lateral (sideways) planes," Head of School Professor Brian Blanksby said.
"You can measure the time over which the force is exerted and the timing from the front foot to the back foot before each foot launches off.
"Therefore, it can be assessed as to which foot should be forward or back, whether one leg is contributing unevenly to the task and how forcefully and rapidly the swimmer dives.
"One of the things we are interested in is asymmetry because people often don't do things equally with their right and left foot."
Already the group has examined preliminary data on 50 subjects.
"Some are basically just falling off the block instead of driving off the block," Brian said.
Others end up skewed in the water because of an imbalance between the forces from their left and right feet as they drive off. Brian said it was the first such starting block in the world.
"They are building one in Arizona at the minute, I think, and we are trying to get our data out before they do," he said. He said a good dive and a bad dive could vary a swimmer's time between 0.5-1.0 second.
"If you are talking about a 50m sprint in freestyle swimming, the distance between first and last can be 0.2- 0.3 seconds," Brian said. Hence, the dive can make the difference.
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