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A Better Way Of Doing Things

Published: September 1, 2015

Want to run faster? Jump higher? Throw a football better? How about fixing that golf swing that’s been failing you all these years?

Well, state-of-the-art help is on its way at CSULB.

Called the Movement Science Lab (MSL) and home of the Center for Sport Training and Research (STAR), the modern facility will move into its new home in Kinesiology, Room 64, sometime this fall—and it promises to be quite something.

“When it’s completed, it will be one of the best human movement facilities in the country,” said Will Wu, an associate professor in kinesiology and director of STAR, who conceptualized the facility with assistant professor in kinesiology Jim Becker. “You can go to any Cal State or UC campus and you will not see a better space for both research and training.”

The purpose of the lab is to examine how humans produce, control and learn movements. It will be critical for identifying speed, position and force characteristics essential for successful movement outcomes. The lab will also aid in the study of how senses or perception contribute to how individuals interpret and make movement decisions in various environments. These environments can range from sport settings where an individual has to anticipate movements of an opponent or something simpler like interpreting the surface they are walking on in order to stay safe and upright.

And while the space is undergoing renovations, the College of Health and Human Services has not been idle when it comes to purchasing needed equipment.

“I knew this type of facility was something I wanted to be involved with so this was a natural fit for me,” said Becker, who designed a similar facility at the University of Oregon and has expertise in not only ordering the proper pieces of equipment, but how to operate them as well. “We have almost everything we need to go into this new space in terms of equipment so we’re ready. We’re really excited because now students will have modern equipment that they can do up-to-date research projects with.”

The new facility will double the size of the current, temporary location in the Human Services and Design Building, which has hosted the program since it began at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

“It has higher ceilings,” said Becker of the new facility, which was an old basketball gym turned gymnastics room, “so you can actually pole vault in there.” And he’s not kidding. That type of client, he noted, is a real possibility.

The multi-billion-dollar sport performance industry has numerous private companies and organizations providing. Upon completion of the facility, STAR will provide CSULB and the surrounding community with cutting-edge sport training and research services for athletes, coaches and teams.

According to Wu, the services of STAR within the Movement Science Lab will be different from most sport training facilities.

“Often times those organizations are driven by individuals who take a narrow-minded approach to how training is done and sometimes don’t use evidenced-based methods to back their services,” he said. “What we’re providing are very well train individuals—faculty members and students—to provide services using evidenced-based methods while integrating the various sport science disciplines.”

Though it could be labeled as a biomechanics lab, it’s not. Rather, the Movement Science Lab designation is more appropriate since more than biomechanics work will be taking place.

Will Wu (l) and James Becker.
Will Wu (l) and James Becker.

“It’s skill acquisition; it’s strength and conditioning; it’s sport psychology; it’s nutrition; it’s sports medicine; it’s all these things put together,” said Wu. “The lab is designed to be multi-interdisciplinary so the main concept behind the STAR is that we do it around sport performance. That kind of sets the tone for the kind of reach we have from a performance or training standpoint. Almost every university has a biomechanics lab, but when you look at it in terms of what we’re doing here there are very few in the country doing it this way.”

The lab will have advanced equipment that can measure movements in three-dimensional space, the amount of force applied to the ground and how an individual applies it, the activity of muscles during an action and visual search patterns as someone navigates through various environments and situations.

Among the equipment being used will be 12 cameras strategically placed throughout the facility with the ability to evaluate a client who is covered head-to-toe with up to 50 reflective dots, similar to those commonly used to track movement in the making of video games or movies.

“With those (cameras) in place, whatever movement you are interested in studying such as running on a treadmill or dribbling a basketball, you know exactly what they did down to a millimeter,” said Becker. “That’s pretty exact.”

A big part of what the lab will focus on is not only what can aid an individual’s current performance, but also how to improve an individual’s present-day performance so when they become older they will still be physically be able to participate in an activity they enjoy.

“There’s a long-term projection,” said Wu. “If you do something poorly over and over then you may injure your knee so badly that you can’t go out for a run when you get older. So in a longer projection lifespan perspective we want an individual to do it well so they continue to be active in the sport of their liking.”

Along with Wu and Becker, others heavily involved in STAR include Mimi Nakajima (sport medicine), Tiffanye Vargas (sport psychology), and Josh Cotter (exercise physiology) from kinesiology; Long Wang (nutrition) and Michelle Barrack from family and consumer sciences; and James Buenaventura and George Beneck from physical therapy.

“All of these different faculty members have expertise in a different area that relate to sport performance,” said Becker, “so we’re going to use that to our advantage and create services that are the best in the world.”