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Sprint running: from fundamental mechanics to practice—a review

  • Thomas HaugenEmail author
  • David McGhie
  • Gertjan Ettema
Invited Review

Abstract

In this review, we examine the literature in light of the mechanical principles that govern linear accelerated running. While the scientific literature concerning sprint mechanics is comprehensive, these principles of fundamental mechanics present some pitfalls which can (and does) lead to misinterpretations of findings. Various models of sprint mechanics, most of which build on the spring–mass paradigm, are discussed with reference to both the insight they provide and their limitations. Although much research confirms that sprinters to some extent behave like a spring–mass system with regard to gross kinematics (step length, step rate, ground contact time, and lower limb deformation), the laws of motion, supported by empirical evidence, show that applying the spring–mass model for accelerated running has flaws. It is essential to appreciate that models are pre-set interpretations of reality; finding that a model describes the motor behaviour well is not proof of the mechanism behind the model. Recent efforts to relate sprinting mechanics to metabolic demands are promising, but have the same limitation of being model based. Furthermore, a large proportion of recent literature focuses on the interaction between total and horizontal (end-goal) force. We argue that this approach has limitations concerning fundamental sprinting mechanics. Moreover, power analysis based on isolated end-goal force is flawed. In closing, some prominent practical concepts and didactics in sprint running are discussed in light of the mechanical principles presented. Ultimately, whereas the basic principles of sprinting are relatively simple, the way an athlete manages the mechanical constraints and opportunities is far more complex.

Keywords

Running technique Kinetics Stiffness Braking Propulsion Power 

Abbreviations

AOD

Accumulated oxygen deficit

CoM

Centre of mass

DRF

Decrease of ratio of forces

Feff %

Force effectiveness (%)

GRF

Ground reaction force

kleg

Leg stiffness

Pmax

Maximum horizontal power

RF

Ratio of forces (horizontal over total)

SFV

Force–velocity slope

SR

Step rate

tc

Contact time

ta

Aerial time

τ

Time constant (tau)

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Ian Bezodis for selflessly providing us with original research data.

Author contributions

All the authors (TH, DM, and GE) contributed significantly in editing, compiling evidence, synthesizing, proof reading, and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian Olympic FederationOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science, Centre for Elite Sports ResearchNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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