An Introduction to Exercise Mechanics

Michael Goulden

Last updated: 

2 Feb 2024

4 min. read

Exercise is recognized as having a major positive impact on health, wellness, and performance. And yet, exercise education is resigned to generic, traditional, pre-determined choreography.

We learn the exercise rules, follow them, and apply them to every client and member. This is not personal training.

When we talk about exercise design, prescription, and application, we are talking about applying forces to anatomy.

What should we study to apply forces to anatomy better and generate the results our clients are paying for?

It’s becoming more known that biomechanics can help us.

What is biomechanics?

Biomechanics includes the study of forces (kinetics) and motion (kinematics). And yet, biomechanics is a broad topic that includes the mechanics of water, animals, and more.

It’s possibly too broad.

I wanted to study a form of biomechanics that was more specific to our needs, so I studied for a master’s degree in Sports Biomechanics.

It was amazing to have hands-on experience with a force platform, infrared camera systems, isokinetic dynamometer, and much more. It didn’t quite solve the issues I had with my clients in the gym.

We focused more on gait, jumping, and sport (it’s in the title!).

It was still too broad.

Enter exercise mechanics.

What is exercise mechanics?

The term ‘exercise mechanics’ was coined by Tom Purvis (RTS founder) in the 1980s. Tom calls this a division of biomechanics. Exercise mechanics is an application of engineering and physics to understand, implement, and deliver exercise.

The study of exercise mechanics includes understanding:

  • Anatomy & structure of the individual
  • Joint & muscle function through motion
  • Effects of forces on the individual
  • The influence of intention
  • Goal specific mechanisms
  • The realistic response from the individual

On human performance all along the functional continuum™️

It’s the progression from generic, traditional, pre-determined choreography to a client-centred approach to exercise design and delivery.

What are the benefits of understanding exercise mechanics?

From aerobics to strength, function to aesthetics, Pilates to powerlifting, stretching to sport specific, all exercise is based upon forces and joints.

For everything else that is happening, i.e. neural, metabolic, recruitment… objectively, all exercise truly boils down to forces on joints! And when you’re talking about forces and joints, you’re talking about mechanics.

Exercise mechanics could be thought of as “the application of the principles of joint mechanics, muscle mechanics, resistance mechanics, and their combined effects that influence factors such as strength profiles, resistance profiles, chain mechanics and joint forces, as well as how each is altered by the influence of intention (either strategically or randomly). – Tom Purvis, RTS

Yet, how does this translate to your work with clients?

The fitness industry is divided into many tribes, each with its own identity and beliefs. People often view the world through the lens of their tribe, seeking out facts that confirm their existing point of view.

In trying to diversify, the industry expanded into countless niches – Pilates, Zumba, yoga, and more. Each claims unique benefits you can’t get anywhere else.

But the real benefits come from the mechanical demands and training environment, not the brand name. Hypertrophy, flexibility, and core strength can occur in any format if programmed correctly for the individual.

As exercise professionals, how do we objectively navigate industry fragmentation? Rather than latch onto one tribe, we can focus on the exercise mechanics and science underlying the client’s desired results. An open, evidence-based view will help us design the best programs for each client, regardless of rigid tribal beliefs.

Understanding anatomy and exercise allows