The most prestigious event in track and field athletics is the simplest one.
The sound of the gun, an explosion of muscle, and less than ten seconds later, a winner.
And all the sprinters seem to do is move their arms while placing one foot in front of the
Yet, in those several seconds, the best athletes use running skills so advanced that sports
scientists are still trying to understand them.
Acceleration to maximum speed is extremely power-consuming, as it can take over 70% of
the sprinter's energy.
The energy spent on acceleration contributes to the fatigue in the latter part of the race.
Given this, top speed and speed maintenance is a direct result of energy efficiency during
The first step out of the blocks is the longest one.
As speed grows, with each following stride, there is less time to push.
Adjusting to this, high performing sprinters transmit force to the ground progressively
quicker by precisely timing their efforts.
However, in big races, even elite athletes sometimes fail at their force application
Trying to maximize coming out of the blocks, they push at each step a little longer than
Consequently, they tense up and burn too much energy just to get slower acceleration and
lower maximum speed.
Running at high speed is a repeated process of striking the ground and bouncing off several
times per second.
In less than one-tenth of a second, the sprinter should stop the downward fall of the body
and produce upward propulsion.
However, no muscles are quick enough to create propulsive forces at running speeds exceeding
8 meters per second.
For this reason, at higher speeds, the muscle strength is amplified by the Achilles tendon,
which stretches at the early part of the ground contact, and the stored elastic energy subsequently
recoils, producing a very quick and powerful push off the ground.
Since the ground contact is the only time when the athlete can apply force and thus
influence the running speed, a large vertical force should be produced during the initial
In contrast, the propulsive portion of the ground phase is completely automatic and requires
no additional effort.
When the foot hits the ground, there is nothing left to do other than maintain the leg stiffness
and let the tendon do its job, allowing muscles to recharge for the next cycle.
The problem occurs when the athletes still try to push during the stance phase.
This over-pushing causes tension in the body and, as a result, loss of speed.
Usually, over-pushing is easy to identify as it is expressed on the face.
Fortunately, proper timing and precision of force application are mind-controlled skills,
which can be improved infinitely.