For this episode, I interview Dr. Tim Coffey an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. He serves as Longwood University’s Faculty Athletics Representative to the NCAA. Dr. Coffey’s teaching duties include Biomechanics, and Civic Engagement Through Sport and Exercise, and his primary research focuses on lower extremity injury risk reduction and the role that strength and conditioning plays in this reduction.
That’s a long introduction, isn’t it? I swear this guy has like 23 degrees or something. Good grief.
We discuss the following:
- What is biomechanics and what do you study?
- How is this useful for sports?
- How does inactivity impact sports performance?
- Strength and conditioning coaches - what do they do?
- How does inactivity impact sports injury rates? In other words, why do football players need some time to get in condition before playing.
- What types of activities can people do at home to stay in shape? Getting up to get a beer out of the fridge does not count.
- Civic Engagement Through Sport and Exercise - What is this course about?
Dr. Coffey brought up that UNO has a phenomenal biomechanics department, something I did not know. We also discuss the future of biomechanics, including “exoskeletons”.
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About the Transcript
Keep in mind that the following is a transcript. . I use a service that automates the first draft. As much as “artificial intelligence” is included in the description of every bit of technology these days, it’s clear that computers understanding human speech is more artificial than intelligent. The transcript has been edited to take out human speech bites, you know, um, okay, uh, but it’s not been edited to be an “article”.
Jon Johnston Welcome to Jon’s post life crisis. I am your host Jon Johnston, founder and manager of CornNation.com, your Nebraska Cornhuskers site of hanging on and hopeful that we’ll have a football season this year. Today we’re talking with Dr. Tim Coffey, the Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. He serves as Longwood University’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA. Dr. Coffey’s teaching duties include biomechanics and civic engagement through sports and exercise in his primary research. focuses on lower extremity injury risk reduction and the role that strength and conditioning plays in this reduction. This episode we’ll be talking about biomechanics. This is a subject I know absolutely nothing about. How’re you doing today Dr. Coffey?
I’m doing great my spring semester final grades were posted yesterday. So my spring semester is officially done. And now I’m just on to prepping for our summer intern. So I have this moment of relief that the spring semesters done.
Jon Johnston Right now is life seem to just be continuing on as normal at your university I mean, as normal as can be.
Longwood is a small public university, and we’re about 5000 students.
Tim Coffey And it is Farmville is pretty much what you would expect, Farmville. We went The week after spring break, our students came back to campus and then we shifted online from there. So it was it was definitely a different type of end of the spring semester in dealing with our our graduating seniors and trying to help them transition to moving out because we are a small university and we’ve actually already announced that we will do a graduation ceremony in October on campus and most of because most of our students live in the state of Virginia. So most of them will come back and we’ll do a full graduation in October
That’s kind of cool. I mean, at least, you’ve got a plan you’ve got it set and it’s going to hopefully happen you know what I mean? Nobody knows what’s going to happen in October but I guess that sounds they I imagined There’s a certain level of comfort for them knowing that.
Tim Coffey I did a multiple zoom type chats with our, with our seniors and other students. And I think they appreciated that piece and they appreciate being able to kind of see each other and talk and many of them are headed off to grad school programs. And so they may not be able to get back. But they were appreciative that the university said, Hey, this is something that’s important and we were going to put our money and mouth behind it and say, This is what we’re going to do.
Alright, let’s back to the track which I said we’re going to actually talk about. We’re going to start with the basics. What is biomechanics? And what do you study?
Tim Coffey So biomechanics is a great field and it’s nice and big. And folks are like, okay, it’s got to do with robotics or it’s got to do with other things. And the simple way to look at it is you break the word down into two frames, bio and mechanics. And so it’s from a grand scheme. It’s looking at living organisms, the bio part and how they move or function mechanically. And so, there are biomechanics, that look at tree biomechanics, and look at marine biology, biomechanics. I’m not one of those folks. But what we do, kind of in in my program is we look at how humans move, and the idea that we can use basic mechanical principles, go back to high school physics of levers and pulleys. And we can equate those types of systems to how the body moves, using muscles and bones and joints to create those same types of principles.
I’m a sports guy at sports site. This obviously applies to sports with humans.
Unknown Speaker So we do, there’s a whole area of sport biomechanics and sport biomechanics is interesting because we look at things about how do we maximize performance? but also how do we train people appropriately? How do we can look at, you know, the force velocity relationship that a muscle creates, and when does it create the most amount of force? We can look at the design of sports equipment. There are lots of folks that are now looking at impacts from concussion, and how does that impact you know, landing mechanics for an individual who’s landing from a jump and those sorts of things and the interaction between it really plays a significant amount into sports and then into sports injuries as well.
Wow, the impact from concussion that has to be a huge. That in itself has to be a huge issue for everybody right now.
Tim Coffey Yeah. So that was a really interesting study, that University of North Carolina Chapel Hill put out a couple years ago, where they looked at their student athletes who had been cleared from concussion protocol. So they had a concussion. They went through all of it, they were cleared to return to sport. And they found that those individuals that had returned a sport, I remember, just correctly were, I think, eight times more likely to suffer some sort of lower extremity injury after returning to sport than those athletes who had not sustained a concussion.
And that’s because they’re.....
Tim Coffey Well, you’re kind of go to your question. We don’t really know why. You know, we think some of it is that the neuron Firing and setting off motor units to coordinate movement patterns or processing speed of the brain to be able to handle movements and how we move could be a whole variety of issues and so now there are lots of folks who are looking at that as to what is what’s the impact that concussions have on individuals abilities, and movement patterns and all those sorts of things
That’s a whole gob of stuff with its Well, I suppose a whole field of study within itself. One of the things that I keep hearing, and for me, I’ve said this on one of our other podcasts is, you hear about these college football coaches that say they need like a month to prepare for football season. And I’m like, one of those guys That’s like, come on, you know, my day. We we just got out there started playing football. I don’t think see the point of having of them having to have a month just to prepare to put on pads and go play a game. I mean, it may not be perfect, but what’s wrong with my attitude about just get out there and go play when it comes to these athletes?
Tim Coffey When people propose that question, I kind of make a comparison to, hey, there’s a charity run, that’s a 5K, that, you know, in a month, are you gonna go and do any training for the 5K or are you just gonna hop off your couch and go run the five K. And if you hop off your couch and go run to 5K, it’s most likely not going to end very well for you. But if you do a little bit of training, even it’s a little bit then your body has a chance to, you know, get conditioned to running to the loads that you’re going to place on it all those sorts of things. And it can respond better, you know, in that month when you go run to 5k versus if you sat on your couch and hopped off of it that morning, got put shoes on and went for a run.
When it comes to like, football in particular? I mean, is it more damaging because of the the constant contact? When I’m running a 5k... Well, I guess I am pounding my knees and, you know, you get a certain amount of pounding just from running, but certainly not the violent impact of sports, does the month that allowed them to prepare their bodies for actually impact too?
Tim Coffey Yeah, and that’s the other piece of it. Now, what occurs within that month, you know, is all up for debate. And I think if you put a panel together of five coaches, and said, Hey, what is this month look like? Or the six weeks look like? You would get eight different answers. And I think there’s a lot of debate about well, how much contact Should there be? versus is it more conditioning? Is it more strengthing? Is it more neuromuscular training about how your body moves? Right? All those things kind of play in. Me being more of the cautious individual. I would veer away from more of the contact, yes, you’re going to have contact, you’re going to get folks who were who are used to it. But it’s much more about the cardiovascular training, the neuromuscular training, and making sure that folks are, are in kind of game shape mentally, for what they’re going to do and, and how they handle plays. There’s some old adage is about if you have an athlete who’s too busy thinking, they can’t necessarily move as well. The brain has a limited amount of computing speed and if you have an individual who has to think, Okay, what player rerunning now, they’re not necessarily then Being able to physically move at the same abilities if they’re just kind of reacting to what they need to do.
How does inactivity impact sports injury rates?
Tim Coffey So there’s some interesting studies that have looked at injury rates and the NCAA has an in surveillance program where they surveil all injuries within sports and reported, and there was a study that came out in 2007. That actually found that in the preseason timeframe, individuals were three times more likely to get injured than in season or postseason, based upon their exposure rate, and so some of that is if you’ve just been sitting around, right and you didn’t do the stuff that you were supposed to do during the summer, you know, in staying condition And then you come back and all of a sudden you’ve got to day practices. So you’ve got increased fatigue. And then you also want to try and gain that starting position. And so you’re going to put your all in that competition for a position, and sometimes you put yourself at more risk and in doing so, and so we see some of those injuries kind of occurring from that preseason standpoint. And a lot of it’s believed to be kind of fatigue related or those folks not in shape because they were inactive for a period of time.
So if we were to do like, I think we should do, we’d see a massive increase in injury rates, just get out there and play football and you’re kind of a blob compared to what you would be otherwise, the injury rates are going to go way, way up.
Tim Coffey And that’s what I expect, you know, and it’s interesting to be part of a lot of my research is looking at strength and conditioning and the role that that plays in injury risk reduction. And oftentimes when you mentioned strength and conditioning, and you talk about the strength and conditioning coach, if you did a survey of, you know, high school kids and their parents or even college athletes, and you said, What is the strength conditioning? COACH do right there first answers are going to be will they make me stronger and make me run faster? Right, there’s no emphasis on risk reduction, but a properly trained strength and conditioning person. Their primary goal is, how do I keep you from getting injured, and oftentimes, the stronger that you are, the less likely you are to get injured. And so that becomes some of the key parts of kind of prepping for athletic competition. And what the role that strength and conditioning coach plays is more than just, hey, we’re going to be stronger or faster. We’re also hopefully going to be less likely to be injured.
The stronger you are the less likely you are to be injured. Why does this strike me? I don’t know why that strikes me is. I guess that’s common sense, isn’t it? I mean, I go back to playing football. I knewwhen I played high school football and I did lift weights over the summer football got big, a lot more easy for me. I don’t know, I guess I was thinking that I was thinking sometimes it seems like these guys are so muscle bound, they can’t move well, and the injuries come in there because they’re overworking their bodies or because they’re, I don’t know, too, too strong and not limber enough. Is that kind of dumb?
Tim Coffey Well, no, you know, when it goes back to to my whole interest area and biomechanics became because, you know, I was a high school football player, and I injured my knee and I spent way too much time with an orthopedic surgeon and a physical therapist.
And what eventually came out as to what was one of the precipitating factors my knee injury is that in all of my lifting weights and doing the strength and conditioning,
Tim Coffey I was doing, you know, growing up, you did squat, deadlift, bench press, you know, those are the activities you did well from a biomechanics standpoint, and we look at what those just those three activities do, right? Your squat and your bench. And, you know, we’re primarily what we look at is kind of handling your anterior side, your front side, there’s not a whole lot of what we call posterior chain, which are the muscles that run down your spine, back hamstring and calf. Now your deadlift does work some of that, but not to the same degree that we talked about doing hamstring curls or doing other types of functional movement and activities. And so just because somebody is necessarily strong, right You can have somebody who can squat 400 pounds and benchpress 350 and they could still get injured because they’re not doing anything on the posterior side. And this is where that the key part is. It’s not just about, hey, we’re getting in and we’re lifting weights, and we’re getting stronger. But are we strengthening the right muscles? Are we strengthening the right way? And are we teaching the same? The correct movement patterns to go with those? Right? It’s great that we can squat that but is your form actually good. So that you’re keeping yourself from being injured because you’re strengthening the right muscles.
Is there any standard from the NCAA or standard across universities for strength and conditioning about, like what they’re supposed to be doing with their programs. Guess
Tim Coffey There’s no standard about what the program’s themselves are. There are some standards about what certifications those strength and conditioning coaches have at the NCAA level.
This is where there was a couple years ago when Kent State had a football player who died during practice. And in the investigation of it, they found that the strength and conditioning coach did not have the certification that he claimed to have. And so that’s one of the kind of the evidence where the NCAA says, you have to have somebody in this position who has the certifications. There’s not however, to my knowledge, any requirement at the high school level for that, which is actually one of the studies that I did in Virginia, us we surveyed our high school athletic directors, and found what certification their strength and conditioning coaches has already or basically lack of certification of those strength and conditioning coaches and looked at the differences between urban schools, rural schools, and public and private schools.
Jon Johnston I’m assuming they found that, like, you know, growing up Nebraska everything except Omaha and Lincoln’s pretty much rural, and I couldn’t imagine that how much you know, we didn’t really have a strength and conditioning coach as much as we had a head football coach and an assistant football coach, and that was it.
So I would say that that’s consistent. I mean, I grew up in a rural part of Virginia. You know, and and our quote unquote, strength coach was an assistant football coach, and here’s the workout we’re doing and you know, football is the primary sport that worked with it, hardly any other sport got into the weight room. And we’re seeing that because we also looked at what what sports are using And we’re seeing more and more, you know, boys and girls basketball at the high school level using string facilities. But uh, but after football and basketball, it drops off to almost non existent in using that as a injury risk reduction kind of method.
Jon Johnston We’re going to switch to people, you know, the current environment we have unbelievably more people working at home. And the joke around my neighborhoods are the guys I’ve run into the guys I talked to is like 50% of us are going to be alcoholics. 50% of us are going to be in better shape and then 100% of us are going to be a combination of those two things. What can people do at home that they’re not just turning themselves into blobs or You know, what’s gonna happen to all these people working at home with their health and their problems there?
Yeah, I mean, I think we’re gonna see some, some significant health challenges. I think between folks who, you know, now you’re sitting, yes, you may have been in an office, staring at a computer or doing other stuff. And now you’re, you know, at home, you might be on zoom meetings, you’re sitting down, you’re not having to walk in from the parking lot. You’re not walking down to, you know, the watercooler to talk to other folks. And so you do become more sedentary. And I think that one of the biggest things that we see that can be helpful for folks is just taking a walk. You know, from a biomechanics standpoint, we look we oftentimes talk about especially with elderly individuals, who tend to be more sedentary, that walking can be one of the biggest key parts to maintaining a healthy life and some of that is The body operates under a, use it or lose it mentality. If you’re not using it, hey, we’re going to take whatever it is that you have, and we’re pulling it back in. And that can be from muscle strength, it can be from bone density. You know, we see individuals who are on bed rest, and their bone density decreases significantly. And which makes their bones more brittle. they’re easier to break, but just getting up and walking, and the body weight going onto those bones, you load the bones, and bone then respond to that loading and it gets stronger. And so just taking walks around the neighborhood, walking around your house, around your yard, those sorts of things can be helpful from, you know, just a basic strength standpoint, but they’re also very helpful. You know, exercise has been shown to have significant psychological benefits. There’s also impacts the exercise has been shown to boost your immune system. And these are all basic premises for now. normal healthy individuals, right? If you have pre existing conditions or you have other sort of health issues, those are clearly for your doctor to be able to discern if your normal healthy individual, just being able to go for a walk can be really helpful to to maintain some of that health or not decrease as significantly, right? If you’re used to going to the gym three days a week, and all of a sudden your gym is closed and you can’t get in. Okay, well, what can I do to at least maintain some aspect of being healthy, or finding things around your house to be able to do? We saw some things with our one of our strength conditioning staff was doing a social media campaign with athletes of crazy ways that they were being physically active, like what were they adapting? And so somebody was using like a bag of dog food to do some deadlifts with and other folks were using. Big detergent bottles, as their dumbbells to be able to do curls and fly with. So finding other ways to be active can can also be entertaining as well. Maybe that’s a challenge with you, a kid in your house or somebody else who’s living with you about well, how else could we do this?
Jon Johnston Okay, so just so we’re clear getting up to go to the fridge and get another beer should not really be considered that great ofexercise.
Well, I mean, if you walk around the block three times before you go to the fridge, that could be helpful. But you know that the 10 steps from, you know, one side of the house to the other to go to the fridge is probably not helpful to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Jon Johnston What is Civic Engagement through Sports and Exercise? This is a class you teach, right?
Yeah. So one way we revamped our.. every university has their general education requirement. And so we revamped ours three years ago, and we included at the freshman level class we call citizen 110, along with mission as a university is about creating citizen leaders and individuals who were civically engaged. And so with the citizen 110 courses they’re in. They were proposed in pretty much every discipline across the university. And so a student can take whichever one interests that. And they’re really about kind of an introduction to the university and here’s how college life works. But it’s built around a framework of civic engagement and then whichever kind of Avenue and so the one that I created was through sport exercise. And so the premise that we talked about is, well how do we use sport or exercise to impact communities And so this can be anywhere from one of the articles that I have them read is about exercise programs with homeless individuals. And what does that impact? What results do we see? And so there’s a couple studies that have been done that have shown, you know, psychological benefits to homeless individuals, as well as physiological benefits. But then we also talk about there’s a really good book out called The Secret Marathon by Martin Parnell. And it’s about so Martin is a Canadian, and he’s a runner he ran I want to say 250 marathons in a year. Which, which sounds a little crazy.
Jon Johnston It sounds a little more current than crazy My God.
He was doing it as kind of some fundraising and he would go to schools and do it and then He had a brain aneurysm and almost died. And when he was recovering from it, his wife showed him this article about this marathon in Afghanistan. That was the first marathon that women were allowed to run in. And so he then used it, it’s kind of like a fuel to revamp himself. And he convinced somebody else to go with him. And they did a whole documentary about this, preparing to go to Afghanistan, and then actually running in this marathon with some of these women. And these women talked about that they couldn’t even go out run in their street, like they couldn’t run through their neighborhoods. They would be, you know, called prostitutes and rocks would be thrown at them, and oftentimes, they were training running around their backyard. And so in class, we taught how to how to sport plan, like what is this? Being able to go for a run, impact, you know, just overall life. Until then the kind of culminating project for them is they have to create a proposal for a project that uses sport or exercise to impact the community. And so what would they do? And so I’ve had a number of them created. I think one of my favorites, however, was an individual who was really struggling. And I asked him, I said, Well, what are you interested in? Here’s what I’m interested in hunting, and I was like, Okay, well, let’s talk about what are some of the, the issues that go with hunting, right? Oftentimes, hunters come from rural areas. We know that there’s issues with rural health, how many hunters don’t do anything during the year, and then hunting season comes and they go climb their tree fan and they have a heart attack as they climb their tree stand. And he’s like, Yeah, actually, one of my dad’s friends did that. And so he then developed, he said, Okay, well, what if we did a free training for hunters pre hunting season, and then is kind of retired for that they would then donate one of their deer to a local soup kitchen. And so that was his kind of proposals how we can use order exercise to not only improve hunters health, but then we can also benefit the soup kitchens as well.
Jon Johnston That’s, I can relate to that. I mean, I know a lot of guys in western Nebraska that it kind of lifted or, you know, people have this attitude toward farmers that they work hard and they’re always active and stuff like that. And honest to god truth there’s a lot of them that sit in a tractor for 12 to 14 hour days because these things are so automated. And you know, when I was a kid, we used to lay irrigation pipe and pick it back up again and we’d have to walk out and physically change the gates on the irrigation pipe and it was a lot of physical manual labor. Now they have center pivots and they push a button. So You know, the, I’m not saying farm people are not active, but I get I get where that kid was coming from. That’s interesting, right.
And I use the example the summer before my freshman year of college, I spent the entire summer digging postholes by by hand on our our family farm. And two months into my freshman year, my dad bought a posthole auger that attached the PTO of the tractor. And I was like, this is just not fair. So, you know, automation does mean that you’re not doing as many things by hand
Jon Johnston And therefore, you know, not staying in shape and we get older and more obese and and then we have more problems. You know what I mean, then a virus comes on and we have the virus on top of our existing problems and America has more deaths because of it, I guess. Is there is there anything else that you’d like to talk about that I might have missed? Because I know when I read your full profile, you have like 18 degrees.
I wish that 18 degrees. Part of it. You know, I’ve been fortunate with my undergraduate career, it was great that I was able to split and I did kind of half mechanical engineering and half biology. And then so when I went to grad school, give me a good kind of prep to be able to take the physics piece that we use in biomechanics and then attach it to the anatomy piece. And I think that the one thing that I will kind of kick off with is, you know, a lot of universities have biomechanics programs, and we’re venturing out we started a couple years ago is a American study biomechanics, doing national biomechanics day, generally in April. And so if it’s an area that folks are interested in to check out their local college or university will most likely be doing activities like Fortunately, this year, everybody’s got canceled. But it’s typically the first or second week of April. There’s some sorts of activities. I know in Nebraska you guys have University of Nebraska Omaha, that has a phenomenal biomechanics program. If you’re not aware of it, they’ve got a whole building that they just opened. So lots of opportunities to kind of learn more about the field and, and kind of understand all the different avenues that it has.
Jon Johnston I saw the mechanical engineering degree and I thought why why is this guy , you had the mechanical engineers to me are guys that are gonna. Well, they’re very structural oriented. Oh, wow. I guess that’s biomechanics, isn’t it? I did not know that about the University of Omaha.
Yeah, no, they have a great program there. They’re probably one of the top biomechanics programs in the country. Kind of from an overall perspective. They do some great stuff.
Jon Johnston So where do you see this all going? I mean, let’s say the human beings in 50 years, they’re gonna be different longer living or mean never gonna have? I’m a sci fi guy, we attach things to our bodies, not like the Borg necessarily. You know.
There’s some great stuff coming out. We’re like EXO, what are called exoskeleton. And so exoskeletons basically kind of go around certain parts of the body. And they provide mechanical assistance, so to speak. So if you’re lifting, you’re working in a warehouse and you’re lifting 50 pound boxes all day, that wearing one of these exoskeletons will help you lift it up. So instead of it feeling like 50 pounds that you’re lifting, it feels like it’s 20 pounds that you’re lifting into I think we’re going to see more and more of those play in? And there’s a lot of debate about whether, well, if we were an exoskeleton, we’ll just make us weaker, right? If we don’t have to lift those.
Tim Coffey And a lot of it would depend on, you know, how much right if the exoskeleton was doing all the lifting for you, and you were just pressing a button, then you are sort of like the farmer sitting in the tractor all day and you’re not going to do anything. But if the exoskeleton just reduces that weight, from 50 pounds to 20 pounds, then you’re still lifting 20 pounds and so the muscles are still, you know, working and so you’re not necessarily going to see that muscle disappear. But you’re also probably not going to get the same overuse because they’re not being overworked picking up 50 pound boxes on a regular basis, and I think is as humans we do a good job of constantly pushing the limits of what our body can do.
Whether that running marathons or lifting or, you know, we’re going to do the weekend warrior stuff in our backyard, you know, all those sorts of things. I think the human spirit is not going to change significantly to make those things not happen.
Jon Johnston Oh, the exoskeleton sounds pretty cool.
Yeah, are some really great stuff with with those going on. And some of it’s also been done. Like there’s a lot of kind of dual research with military branches in doing like, how do we offload some of the rucksacks and landing from you know, parachuting, those sorts of things that we can utilize kind of exoskeletons to help decrease, decrease the loads on the human body to help prevent, whether that’s overuse injuries or acute injuries are gonna be there across the board.
Jon Johnston That’s cool. I said this once before, but anything else that we should add?
Not that I could think of.
Jon Johnston We’ll be done. This has been John’s post life crisis. Thanks for listening. Go big red and thank you doctor Coffey for joining me for this episode about biomechanics.
Great. Thanks for having me.