The Real Reason I Will Never beat Usain Bolt

Not that I really think I have a chance, but I always wonder if I did all the training and diet, could I ever beat Usain Bolt? Everyone knows that performance is partially training and partially genes but there may be another factor. A study out of Penn State looked at the possibility of physical difference in the feet of sprinters and non-sprinters. 

This study consisted of 8 male sprinters and 8 male non-sprinters. MRIs were used to examine the length of the forefoot and the hind foot. The sprinters had a longer forefoot length on average and shorter hind foot on average. They found sprinters had increase force production because of the shorter rear foot.

We know that muscles change and adapt due to different exercise patterns. Repetitive muscle contraction can actually change bone structure over time which can impact the movement arm of that structure. Running is all about lever arms and movement arms (brush up on your high school physics). With a longer forefoot (lever arm) and a shorter rear foot (plantar flexion movement arm), your plantar flexors are able to generate more force to push off of.

There is not much we can do about this other than practice. In these sprinters, the muscle pattern of the intrinsics and achilles has allowed this structural change of the foot and ankle. It maybe beneficial however to imagine the design of this system as your running. When you are sprinting, focus on using your entire forefoot, not just the inside or outside of your foot to push off from. Also, try to imagine your foot bones are getting longer; its worth a shot!

Baxter, J., Novack, T., Van Werkhoven, H., Pennell,D., Piazza, S. Ankle going mechanics and foot proportions differ between human sprinters and non-sprinters. Proceedings of the Royal Society. 2012. 279. 2018-2024.