The answer: skill, a lot of practice, and in some cases, a little help from some high-tech biomedical modeling taking place at USC Biomechanics Research Laboratory.
The lab, in collaboration with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's departments of biomedical engineering, and aerospace and mechanical engineering, is running an experimentally based research program to develop state-of-the-art biomechanical modeling techniques for USC athletes who hope to reach this year's Olympic Games in Athens.
"We look at ways to improve a swimmer's flips, dives and strokes or show sprinters how to spring from the starting line," said Jill McNitt-Gray, associate professor of kinesiology, biomedical engineering and biological sciences.
"In gymnastics, we'll videotape and model someone's performance to get a sense of how they are generating vertical and angular momentum when they launch a backflip from the balance beam," she said. "We can advise them on how to shift their weight just a little or spring up just a little sooner to perfect the performance."
McNitt-Gray specializes in force impact to the lower extremities, an experimental modeling technique in kinesiology that can be applied to a wide range of skilled performers athletes, musicians and workers at risk of developing repetitive stress injuries to improve performances without overloading the musculoskeletal system.
"Integrating experimental and modeling approaches of studying human movement allows us to understand how the nervous system takes advantage of musculoskeletal dynamics and how it distributes load during human movement," she said.