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Bringing Biomechanics and Big Data into the Gym

Contributor(s): Bethany Wilcox, PhD, and Danielle St. Pierre
4 minute read
A fitness enthusiast carrying a pink kettlebell with other weights and kettlebells around them on the floor

Experts at the Center for Sports Performance and Research focus on research in sports science and athletic performance to train athletes, from the weekend warrior to the elite athlete, to compete at the top of their game. The center provides a unique venue for sports science and performance training.

Athletes come to the center when they are on the road to recovery or looking to take their performance to a new level. The facility takes a personalized approach to the athlete’s needs, providing tailored, scientifically based programs that use cutting-edge research and technology. Clients receive expert recommendations and benefit from in-house assessments that evaluate the total athlete including biomechanics, strength, mobility and cognitive performance. 

Bethany Wilcox, PhD, is a senior biomechanical analyst at the center with a background in biomedical engineering and musculoskeletal biomechanics. She conducts research and develops athlete assessments. Danielle St. Pierre is a performance technician. In this Q&A, they share what it’s like to work at the center and help athletes reach their peak performance.

Q: What is it like to work for the Center for Sports Performance and Research?

Wilcox: It's an incredible facility, staffed with a great group of passionate, multidisciplinary team members. We have physiologists, strength and conditioning coaches, engineers, and researchers. Our focus is driving innovation in the field of human performance for athletes of varying skill levels, including tactical athletes like first responders and military operators.

Q: What is your day-to-day work like?

Wilcox: I feel like I have one of the coolest jobs that exists. My role bridges academia, research and industry. It's math and sports, and it's trying to make meaningful, actionable interpretations from data to help people perform better in their day-to-day lives – whether it's getting someone across the finish line of their first marathon, supplementing an athlete’s recovery, or optimizing performance at the professional level. It's a hands-on role that on any given day includes data collection, analysis of large datasets, running various motion capture or wearable sensor systems, and keeping up with the most current literature in the field. 

Q: What makes the center so valuable for athletes?

St. Pierre: There are so many things under one roof. We have the performance training, but we also have the recovery, the biomechanics side, and the research, which is amazing. Also, anyone can come here, and they're going to get treated like an elite-level athlete. They're going to get an individualized plan. If someone has a specific performance goal in mind, whether it's training for a race or whatever it may be, we're going to help them get to that goal.

Q: What does it look like to complete a performance assessment for a client?

St. Pierre: A client’s assessment day includes an hour to an hour and a half worth of assessments that include motion analysis, jump and balance analysis, and several cognitive assessments. You get the physical performance side of things with the first half and then the cognitive assessment during the second half. The cognitive assessments help clients determine things like cognitive processing ability in addition to reaction speed and accuracy. Separately, we also do metabolic testing – VO2 Max testing, lactate threshold testing and resting metabolic rate. Those performance tests can help tailor any performance plan because of the unique data we get for each athlete.

Q: What research are you conducting and what is the long-term vision of it?

Wilcox: Some of the studies that we have going on right now are focused on ACL repair, hip pain, return-to-play protocols and tactical performance under cognitive load or fatigue. Another part of the research work is partnering with industry and government entities to validate or drive innovation in their product or new technologies.

Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services


Bethany Wilcox, PhD
Senior Biomechanical Analyst


Danielle St. Pierre
Performance Technician