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Herathlete Spotlight: Wanda Sihanath Talks Sports Biomechanics

Updated: Feb 14

Herathlete Spotlight is a storytelling series dedicated to sharing the stories and unique experiences of athletes and sports professionals within the Herathlete community and beyond. 


Introduction


Joint kinematics, barbell kinematics, force production. 


To most weightlifters, these words don't mean much. To Wanda Sihanath, they're key to understanding the physics behind how athletes produce force, resulting in the ability to successfully lift hundreds of pounds off the floor. 


Wanda is a weightlifter herself, currently getting her PhD at Marquette University in Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, with a specialty in Sports Biomechanics.


Sports Biomechanics is the study of the physics behind human body movement in a sports environment. It's a rapidly growing field, with sports biomechanists working everywhere from researching athletic clothing and shoes to helping reduce elbow injuries on professional baseball teams, for instance. 


We sat down to talk more about her journey through the field, the Team USA Camp her lab hosted recently, and the impact this type of work has on all athletes. 



Let's get into it..


Herathlete: Tell me a little bit about how you got into sports biomechanics.


Wanda Sihanath: “I did my undergrad at Arizona State in Biomedical Engineering because I was really interested in the medical device industry. By the time senior year came, I was pretty burnt out, but I had also started going to the gym. I took a biomechanics class and realized that I could use physics and biomechanics to benefit myself in the gym which was pretty cool.”

...


H: A few weeks ago, Team USA Weightlifting hosted a camp at your lab at Marquette. What information did you study there?


WS: “My lab was just collecting this data and seeing trends about what performance looks like at the elite levels and seeing how this compares to someone who is not elite.


However, how you produce force is very important to performance in weightlifting, which is why Mike Gattone (USAW, Senior Director of Sports Performance and Coaching Education) wanted us to capture that.


My advisor then works with Mike to use the data collected to pinpoint specific deficits or patterns in each athlete that they can improve, and then we can compare at future camps.” 

...


H: You mentioned that the field is growing, with many basketball, baseball, and other professional sports teams adding sports biomechanists to their staff. How do the topics you research filter down into the general sports public?


WS: “The hope would be that research makes its way down towards training programs and cues, which is one of the goals with Journal Club.


But for sure right now, in sports biomechanics, there is a very distinct break between what goes on in research and what the athletes and coaches are actually doing. The eventual goal is to combine the two and work side-by-side. 


It can be hard to get buy-in from coaches to try something new, even if it does have proven research behind it, because to them what they're doing already works.”

...



H: On that note, let's talk about your Journal Club series on Instagram.


WS: “Journal Club is where I pick a journal article, read it, and then try to digest it and speak about it in a way that an outsider to sports science would be able to understand it


It’s a chance for me to practice speaking eloquently because I'm typically really bad at public speaking. That was ultimately the goal and it just happened to catch on because people were interested.”

...


H: As a student in the field of sports science, what are your thoughts on the prevalence of pseudoscientific advice offered on social media these days?


WS: “It's frustrating for sure.


I feel like we go to school to learn this stuff because we want to be experts in our field to help others, so it's frustrating to see people give advice based on what works for themselves, which doesn't necessarily work for everyone.


What research often shows is that a lot of these practices, such as training based upon your menstrual cycle, are actually very individual and vary from person to person.”

...


H: Let’s talk about your journey in STEM. Being a woman in a very male-dominated field, have you experienced any significant struggles?


WS: “Not yet, but that’s mostly because I'm so young in my career. But having to work hard to just prove yourself seems like just a standard for women in this field.” 

...


H: Do you have any pieces of advice to give to women who may want to enter the field?


WS: “Just go for it. 


Know yourself, and the confidence stems from within you. Having that self confidence will shine outwards and that's how you show yourself to your peers to the people that you work with, and that really how you create a sense of belonging. That's how you let yourself know that you belong there and deserve to be there.”

...


To find out more about Wanda Sihanath and Journal Club, check out her Instagram.



Image credits: USA Weightlifting & DRVN Weightlifting



Written by Katherine Weaver


As a weightlifter with a passion for writing, Katherine is excited to help highlight the inspiring stories of other female athletes.

 

Before transitioning to weightlifting, Katherine sailed at the international and collegiate levels in the ILCA 6 Dinghy.

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