Moving SMART-ly: Lab Helps Athletes Avoid Injury

Posted: April 11, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: April 14, 2014 at 7:09 am

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By Preston Williams

Runner with lights

The majority of running injuries are caused by excessive or atypical movement patterns, something that Mason’s SMART Lab can help runners adjust.

In recent decades, runners have adjusted to new shoes, music, clothing and energy bars. The innovation they would most like to see, however, has eluded them.

“The one thing that has remained constant is that 50 percent of runners get injured every year,” says Jatin Ambegaonkar, George Mason University associate professor in the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism, part of the College of Education and Human Development. “The majority of those injuries are caused by excessive or atypical movement patterns.”

The ability to prevent and diagnose those injuries is now in the grasp of runners and athletes of all ages and abilities in the Washington, D.C., area.

George Mason’s SMART Lab, established as one of the most advanced performance and fitness testing centers in the country, has opened its facilities to the public to help the casual and serious athlete alike pinpoint the root cause of their aches and pains. These state-of-the-art injury assessment and prevention services, using the most sophisticated technology available, previously were open only to elite athletes and researchers.

SMART Lab

The lab will provide exercise enthusiasts of all ages and abilities with the kind of state-of-the-art injury assessment and prevention services previously available only to elite athletes and researchers. Photo by Evan Cantwell

The SMART (Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing) Lab is one of only three U.S. public sites to offer 3-D Gait Analysis, the most advanced system of its kind in the world and the only public 3-D Gait site in the Washington, D.C., area.

The lab is based at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center on Mason’s Prince William County Campus in Manassas, Va.

This resource will come as welcome news to the area’s thousands of avid yet often hobbled runners, and it also will serve recreational athletes, CrossFit enthusiasts and walkers who are starting new fitness or weight-loss plans.

In addition to 3-D Gait Analysis, the Smart Lab offers three additional advanced assessment services that also help prevent injury and improve performance: Bod Pod and Skinfold Analysis measure muscle-to-fat ratio, and the V02max endurance test determines aerobic potential.

Bod Pod is used by the NFL, military and health care organizations. The V02 is particularly popular with swimmers, bicyclists, rowers, marathon and 5K runners, and cross-country skiers.

Runner on a treadmill

Among the services offered at the lab are 3-D Gait Analysis, Bod Pod and Skinfold Analysis, which measure muscle-to-fat ratio, and the V02max endurance test, which determines aerobic potential. Photo by Evan Cantwell

“As a public research university with a strong community focus, we’re gratified to be able to make this technology accessible to the public through the SMART Lab,” says Shane Caswell, associate professor at Mason and executive director of the lab. “We are translating evidence-based research and making that knowledge practicable and usable in a clinical setting to benefit the public.”

The 3-D Gait System is similar to the motion-capture technology used in films such as “Avatar” and is far more advanced and precise than commercial fitness assessment gear.

The 3-D Gait assessment digitally captures, with multiple cameras, a person’s running pattern, then compares the data with data from 18 biomedical research labs around the world. That comparison yields a personalized biomechanics report, scientifically validated, that pinpoints areas of weakness or inflexibility that can be corrected.

Soon, it’s no pain, all gain.

The exhaustive — but not exhausting — testing available at the SMART Lab can help diagnose and correct injuries that otherwise might nag at runners or other athletes for years. Public access to the facility enhances Washington, D.C.’s reputation as a premier running town, with its hundreds of miles of jogging trails and a busy road race schedule capped by the Marine Corps Marathon.

“Having an accurate, research-based baseline and then tracking your performance over time is a good way to assess your health, determine the success of a diet or fitness plan, or motivate yourself to increase performance,” says Nelson Cortes, a Mason assistant professor and researcher who specializes in sports biomechanics.

SMART Lab services are provided by appointment only — no walk-ins accepted. Parking is free. Appointments can be made online at smartlab.gmu.edu/go. There are special discounts for groups and teams, and discount rates for Mason students. For further information, email smartlab@gmu.edu or call 703-993-7784.

The SMART Lab is primarily dedicated to evidence-based research in injury prevention and human performance with an emphasis on neuromechanical assessment, concussion, youth sport and sport performance.

The lab partners with area youth sports leagues and high schools to make sports safer and promote healthy lifestyles and an improved quality of life. By providing high-quality, evidence-based services, the lab can conduct advanced research and provide Mason students with a world-class educational experience that extends beyond the boundaries of the university and positively contributes to the community.

Write to Preston Williams at pwilli20@gmu.edu

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