Impulse To Innovation

Season 2 Episode 9: ‘Marginal Gains‘ - Engineering in Sport

October 4, 2021

In this months episode, we are exploring the world of engineering in sport and how sports technology is not just improving the performance of elite athletes but is having an effect on ordinary fitness fans and even medicine and healthcare.

Sports engineering is the technical application of physics, mathematics, biomechanics, computer science and even aeronautical engineering to solve sporting problems. According to the international sports engineering association, sports engineering includes tasks such as designing equipment, building facilities, analysing athlete performance, regulating standards and safety requirements and developing coaching tools.

It could be argued that the use of technology in sport began as far back as the ancient Olympics when chariots were used for racing and athletes competed in the pentathlon; which did involve wearing armour.

But modern sports technology really began to appear in the 19th century and commercially available examples of innovative equipment such as tennis racquets, golfing equipment and cricket helmets were on show at the great exhibition of 1851. But it wasn’t until 1998 that Professor Steve Haake of Sheffield Hallam University founded the international sports engineering association, thus formalising sports engineering as a disciple in its own right.

Today, there very few sports that do not involve some kind of engineering, and the typical sports engineer works directly with the athlete to monitor and measure their performance, behaviour and interaction with said equipment, to ensure they are at the peak of physical fitness.  It’s safe to say that many of the sports brands we see sponsoring events or even have in our gym bags, would not be the big names we know today without the work of sports engineers.

So what kind of work are sports engineers doing today?

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Helen spoke with engineers Andy Harland, Professor of Sports Technology and director of the Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University, and Dr Tom Allen senior lecturer in sports engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Andy is a chartered mechanical engineer and is involved in research across a broad range of topics including measurement and instrumentation, product design and development, injury prevention and simulation. He has worked on a number of projects concerned with sports footwear, apparel and protective gear.

Andy’s research in soccer balls has been applied by Adidas in tournaments including the FIFA world cups and UEFA European Championships and his  research in cricket helmet impacts underpinned the revision of the British Standard 7928:2013; Specification for Head Protection for Cricketers.

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Dr Tom Allen is also a chartered mechanical engineer and his research is focused on the effect of sports engineering and technology, in terms of performance, participation and injury risk.

Tom applies Computational Mechanics and Computer Aided Engineering to his analysis as well as understanding the application of materials and the impact they have on performance. Tom is also the Editor in Chief of the ISEA’s Sports Engineering journal.


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We would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this episode or about your experiences, interest or work in sports technology. If you would like to get in touch email us at

You can find more information about the work of the IMechE at