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The Simple Math Behind Running Faster

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The Simple Math Behind Running Faster

If you want to improve athletic performance you have to make your athletes faster. That's pretty straight forward.

So let's break the process down in very clear terms.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that an athletes' one rep max for deadlift directly relates to how fast they can run. (It doesn't, but for the sake of this argument, it will make things clear.)

So, The Athlete has a max deadlift of 500 pounds. Therefore, if everything is done perfectly, The Athlete can apply 500 pounds of force to the ground with every step.

In a perfect world, if the athlete runs a race taking 50 steps, they will run their absolute 'best case scenario' time if they apply 500 pounds of force for all 50 steps.

But we know from working with young athletes that they things don't go perfectly with every stride. Or anything close to it.

So let's look at the first 5 steps of the race and see where things break down (keeping in mind that 500 pounds of force is a 'perfect' step/stride.

STEP 1. Athlete doesn't push into the ground/blocks hard enough, so only applies 400 pounds of force.

Result: Only 80% efficient (20% of potential force wasted)

STEP 2: Athlete's foot lands heel first, so only applies 350 pounds of force.

If your heel touches the ground, youre running slow!

If your heel touches the ground, you're running slow!

Result: Only 70% efficient (30% of potential force wasted)

STEP 3: Knee angle opens up too much and foot strike takes place in front of Center of Mass, applying 350 pounds of force.

Result: Only 70% efficient (30% of potential force wasted)

STEP 4: Too much backside mechanics, so Athlete can't recover swing leg quickly enough to drive foot down into the ground, applying 300 pounds of force

Result: Only 60% efficient (40% of potential force wasted)

STEP 5: Athlete recovers from bad start, gets foot down under hips, pushes the ground back and away, applying 450 pounds of force.

Result: 90% efficient (10% of potential force wasted)

Now plot this out over the course of the entire race/distance being run and think about how much potential 'speed' is wasted simply due to lack of efficiency or running skill.

In just 5 steps, The Athlete applies an average of 370 pounds of force per step, out of a possible 500. This means The Athlete has an efficiency rating of 74%.

Bottom Line: If the athlete had better running form, better understanding of *how* it should feel when running, better coaching feedback, etc., they would be more efficient with each step and, based on simple physics, would run faster.

So, you can make athletes (in any sport) faster just by making them more efficient. How?

1. Regularly practice speed drills (with perfect technique) so athletes understand what good running form FEELS like.

2. Give technical feedback. If you, the coach, know what the athlete should be doing, you can help them clean up their form. But if you don't tell them what to do (and give them correct information) they're not going to figure it out on their own.

Torn hamstrings can/will to happen. 

If you don't give them good technical feedback, they're just going to keep practicing bad running and it will keep getting worse.

3. Improve general and absolute strength, hip and ankle mobility and coordination. Core work, weight training and body weight training will improve the inter and intramuscular coordination required to maximize force application/speed.

Now, let's say you improve average efficiency of The Athlete (by using the above methods) from 74% to 84%. Average force applied per stride goes from 370 pounds to 420 pounds.

Again, simple physics tells us the Athlete MUST get faster.

So, if you want athletes to improve, you must make them more efficient.

Here's the next thing you need to focus on:

Let's say you improve The Athlete's absolute strength from 500 pounds to 600 pounds. But you *don't* make The Athlete any more efficient.

So they stay at 74% Efficiency, but based off of a greater ability to apply force to the ground. So the athlete now can apply 444 pounds of force per stride (74% of 600).

Think about it:

By improving maximum strength, but not touching Efficiency, The Athlete goes from 370 pounds of force per stride to 444.

That's a HUGE improvement in terms of athletic performance.

So two identical athletes with identical Efficiency Rates step on the starting line. But one can apply 600 lbs. of force and the other 500 lbs. The physically stronger (yet otherwise identical) Athlete wins the race Every Single Time!

The moral of the story? Get your athletes in the weight room if you want them to perform better!

Now, let's say you improve absolute strength from 500 to 600 pounds AND you improve average efficiency from 74% to 84%.

The Athlete now has an average force application of 504 pounds per stride (84% of 600).

Again, think about it. The stronger, more efficient athlete applies more force to the ground (runs faster) at only 84% efficiency than an otherwise identical athlete with 100%
efficiency but significantly lower strength levels.

The numbers don't lie!!!

What's my point?

You can get ridiculous results with your athletes when you focus on improving strength *and* efficiency.

This is where the argument that speed can't be coached breaks down. Sure you can't turn kids into Usain Bolt. But they're generally so weak and inefficient (even the 'good' ones) that they can make 'night and day' improvements by becoming more well rounded athletes.

All you have to do is look at the numbers and put a plan into place that focuses on long term development of specific biomotor skills: speed, strength, mobility, coordination and endurance.

 


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18 Comments

  • thez says:

    I’ve personally never had a problem running fast. I’ve been a larger fellow most of my life and yet I could out run most of my more “healthier” friends. This entry has been a very interesting read none the less.

  • K.B. says:

    Hi Latif,
    I have a 10 year old national medalist in the long jump, 100 and 200 meters. He is currently playing basketball until probably March and our track season starts practicing in late April. He hasn’t competed in the 400 but this year I plan on having him run 400s in meets to get his 200 times down for our state and national qualifier meets later in the season. Do you have a training program that you recommend for running the 4? When to float, accelerate and how to finish? How long should he do 400 work before we switch to 200? Also do you think him doing some speed and agility work 4-8 weeks out before the first practice to get him into running shape is a good idea? Love your advice and your site. Thanks.

  • MartyO says:

    Just a big THANKS for all your information.

    >>You’re welcome! LT

  • paul says:

    great article latif! of course, we need to apply this force with speed or it counts for not alot. John smith (mo greenes coach) emphasized leg speed on each stride cycle which contributed to mo’s success, and he often took 7 steps to the first 10m. Agility ladder/ cone/ speed drills improve leg turnover combined with raw speed work. But, when sprinting (vmax) do you 1) cue athletes to run with fast leg turnover whilst maintaining range of movement and short ground contact times, or 2) cue them to apply large force to the ground like usain bolt appears to be doing (6 steps – 10m)

    Many thanks latif
    – your becoming quite a legend in the world of track!

  • james says:

    I just wish I had a projector and a laptop to show some of these athletes their mistakes. Imagine at the last junior high championships 3-4 athlese fell coming off the curve; wearing spikes. The problem? Landing eel first!! We have a 14year-old she broke the high jump record; but finished close second to her team-mate in the 100m, 12.4 something. I see many of our international athletes at the Invitational meet while runninig, toes are always pointing upwards.

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (3) Paul – Haha, well ‘legend’ is certainly pushing it, but I do appreciate the kind words. I think you’ll enjoy the new stuff I have coming out in the next few weeks…

    I’m going to do an article or video on leg turnover because either we’re not calling it by the same thing or I disagree with what people are doing. Swing time (toe off to touch down) between elite sprinters and sub-elite sprinters is negligible. I don’t coach swing time directly. So I’m not sure I cue either of the things you say, unless it’s a semantics issue. I cue quick heel recovery, step over, drive down. The issue is generally that athletes’ heel recovery is mechanically inefficient so they’re not putting themselves in position to maximize turnover. It is an excellent question, however, and one that deserves a specific response, most likely on video.

    (4) James – Create a facebook page specifically for your track kids. Voiceover the videos using basic editing software (I use Pinnacle and/or Camtasia) then upload it to the site. Your athletes all spend half their free time on f’book and they will all watch and ask great questions!

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (3) Paul – Haha, well ‘legend’ is certainly pushing it, but I do appreciate the kind words. I think you’ll enjoy the new stuff I have coming out in the next few weeks…

    I’m going to do an article or video on leg turnover because either we’re not calling it by the same thing or I disagree with what people are doing. Swing time (toe off to touch down) between elite sprinters and sub-elite sprinters is negligible. I don’t coach swing time directly. So I’m not sure I cue either of the things you say, unless it’s a semantics issue. I cue quick heel recovery, step over, drive down. The issue is generally that athletes’ heel recovery is mechanically inefficient so they’re not putting themselves in position to maximize turnover. It is an excellent question, however, and one that deserves a specific response, most likely on video.

    (4) James – Create a facebook page specifically for your track kids. Voiceover the videos using basic editing software (I use Pinnacle and/or Camtasia) then upload it to the site. Your athletes all spend half their free time on f’book and they will all watch and ask great questions!

  • Mike says:

    Latif,

    Do you have any drills for runners that run tight. Shoulders up, not driving elbows back, teeth clenched, hands in a tight fist. I have couple of sprinters that get tighter as the race goes along. I have tried numerous cues as well as drills but am wondering what you might suggest. Also thank you for your insights in many other topics Complete Speed Training and Complete Program Design for Sprinters are great resources.

    Regards,
    Mike

  • paul says:

    ……Swing time (toe off to touch down) between elite sprinters and sub-elite sprinters is negligible…….
    But are swing times identical as a result of “sub-elite sprinters” lengthy ground contact times and poor mechanics such as reaching out in front of COM. Most studies do not measure or analyse this. Any kid can run with 4 steps per second, and most kids can stride at 3m per cycle, but very few can do both, and im certain most sub-elite sprinters have worse range of motion than an elite. The real question is – which of the two is most important, and what is the ratio of importance.

    When I sprint at top speed I like to think “quickness” and “technique” so I think this is psychological.

    Paul Graham,
    http://www.speed-development.co.uk

  • Nick says:

    Great idea with the facebook page. I’m having trouble getting my athletes to stay down on their starts. I work with them on the starts you have in CST but they’re still popping when race time comes. DO you have any suggestions.

  • Larry Van Gundy says:

    Latif, How can I apply this strength training to 8,9,10, year olds who are beginning to play football? I’ve always felt this age is to young to use weights. Your ideas would be a great help. Thank you Larry

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (8) Paul – Great question. I could be wrong, but my understanding of ‘swing time’ is toe off to touch down, so that does not include ground contact time. But which is most important? I strongly believe it’s your #1 – cue athletes to run with fast leg turnover whilst maintaining range of movement and short ground contact times. If the athlete has a good drive phase/acceleration phase, they will lock themselves into a pattern of movement that must include maximized force application. Remember, top speed is defined as the point at which ground contact time shortens to the point where increased force application is no longer possible. So cueing an attempt to increase force application is an error because it is not possible. Instead, I believe it is critical to cue quick heel recovery, step over, drive down. It is that quick heel recovery and shortening of the lever that allows the athlete to bring the leg into the most efficient position to sustain the force application created during acceleration. I’m going to do a video on this soon, but, as always, great question and discussion.

    Like you, when I sprint at full speed, I focus on quickness and technique because I should have taken care of the force application ‘focus’ during my drive phase.

    LT

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (8) Paul – Great question. I could be wrong, but my understanding of ‘swing time’ is toe off to touch down, so that does not include ground contact time. But which is most important? I strongly believe it’s your #1 – cue athletes to run with fast leg turnover whilst maintaining range of movement and short ground contact times. If the athlete has a good drive phase/acceleration phase, they will lock themselves into a pattern of movement that must include maximized force application. Remember, top speed is defined as the point at which ground contact time shortens to the point where increased force application is no longer possible. So cueing an attempt to increase force application is an error because it is not possible. Instead, I believe it is critical to cue quick heel recovery, step over, drive down. It is that quick heel recovery and shortening of the lever that allows the athlete to bring the leg into the most efficient position to sustain the force application created during acceleration. I’m going to do a video on this soon, but, as always, great question and discussion.

    Like you, when I sprint at full speed, I focus on quickness and technique because I should have taken care of the force application ‘focus’ during my drive phase.

    LT

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (9) Nick – impossible to say without seeing them on video. Certainly my new CST for Sprinters will cover this issue. But, based on my experience, here are the main reasons your kids could be popping up:
    1. simply not strong enough
    2. not driving down and pushing back into the ground long enough
    3. leaning too far forward in the blocks
    4. trying to be quick (taking short, fast, choppy (but powerless) steps out of the blocks
    5. not driving the lead arm up
    6. driving up instead of out at a 45 degree angle

    Film it and play it back in slo mo and you’ll probably be able to see it better, but it’s got to be one, some or all of those reasons.

    (10) It is too young to use weights. But they can do bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, etc. instead of load bearing strength training. There is *plenty* of room for improvement there.

    LT

  • Latif Thomas, Athletes' Acceleration says:

    (9) Nick – impossible to say without seeing them on video. Certainly my new CST for Sprinters will cover this issue. But, based on my experience, here are the main reasons your kids could be popping up:
    1. simply not strong enough
    2. not driving down and pushing back into the ground long enough
    3. leaning too far forward in the blocks
    4. trying to be quick (taking short, fast, choppy (but powerless) steps out of the blocks
    5. not driving the lead arm up
    6. driving up instead of out at a 45 degree angle

    Film it and play it back in slo mo and you’ll probably be able to see it better, but it’s got to be one, some or all of those reasons.

    (10) It is too young to use weights. But they can do bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, etc. instead of load bearing strength training. There is *plenty* of room for improvement there.

    LT

  • Bradley Florence says:

    Latif, I agree with everything you just said but i have these young female athletes who run 60 second 400’s, 26 second 200’s and 12.7 second 100’s but all have backside mechanics. I am frustrated with the fact that i have tried everything the fix their running forms but they are still running with their feet coming up to their hamstrings. Would you be able to suggest a specific drill or training technique to help reduce their backside mechanics so they can run faster times?

  • Packie says:

    Should all these figures not be halved? (Because you deadlift with two feet on the ground, but when you run you take a single step at a time).

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