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Liberty Science Center Presents: Sports Science Behind Leverage

February 23rd, 2014 at 7:30 AM
By Giants 101

As part of the new "Gridiron Glory" exhibit appearing at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey — an exhibit featuring a number of items from the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Sports Media 101 will feature a series of articles pertaining to the science behind several sports. Enjoy!

Leverage is the power gained by using a lever. It essentially makes work easier, increasing the output of a given force. A common example of a lever is a crowbar. The crowbar amplifies the force applied, decreasing the amount of force the user needs to supply. The fulcrum is the point where the lever pivots. This is essential in creating leverage. If the distance from the fulcrum to where the output force is applied is less than the distance from the fulcrum to the input force, the lever will amplify the input force.

In sports, leverage is used to amplify force. Players are looking to apply force to the ball or even other players depending on the sport. The techniques applied in each sport are refined to create the maximum force needed to throw the ball farther and faster or to be able to create a greater impact and physically move another person.

A baseball pitcher uses leverage to throw a fastball past the opposing cleanup hitter. The pitcher’s elbow is the fulcrum, while the baseball is the resistance. Arm speed and leg drive create the force. Other factors can become involved such as the grip used, but leverage is what allows the baseball to be thrown.

In football, coaches always harp that the low man wins. This is constantly discussed in blocking and tackling as the player able to get his pads under the other player’s is at an advantage. Both actions involve moving the other player, who is serving as the resistance. The player making the block or the tackle is actually using his body as the lever, with the contact point he uses creating leverage.

While the above examples involve players using their bodies to create leverage, sometimes the lever is a piece of equipment used by the player. Hockey and lacrosse players use their sticks to apply force to the puck or ball when passing and shooting. While other factors can come into play such as the flexion of the individual stick, generally a longer stick will create more force.

There are threedifferent classes of levers. In a first class lever, the fulcrum is between the force and the resistance. Think of a crowbar or a hockey stick. A second class lever puts the resistance between the fulcrum and the force – rowing is an example of a second class lever. In third class levers, the force is applied between the fulcrum and the resistance. The above example of a pitcher throwing a baseball is an example of a third class lever.

Sports often come down to creating force, whether that force is being applied to an object or to another person’s body. We use levers, sometimes our own body acting as a lever, to amplify the force we can create. Understanding how levers work and how to create leverage gives us insights into creating greater force and even increasing athletic performance. 

Just because the Super Bowl left NY/NJ it doesn't mean the NFL action is over. Come see the Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Liberty Science Center see jerseys worn by legends, make the tough call under the hood, try on equipment and get immersed into football like never before.

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Tags: Football, Liberty Science Center, New Jersey, New York, New York Giants, NFL

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