How to Run Like an Elite Sprinter

Want to take your sprinting pace to the next level? Follow these tips from Shape| and you’ll be on your way to elite status.

Scientists say they’ve figured out why elite sprinters are so much faster than the rest of us mere mortals| and surprisingly| it has nothing to do with the doughnuts we ate for breakfast. The world’s fastest runners have a significantly different gait pattern than other athletes| according to a new study from Southern Methodist University ¡ª and it’s one that we can train our own bodies to emulate.

When researchers studied the running patterns of competitive 100- and 200-meter dash athletes vs. competitive soccer| lacrosse| and football players| they found that the sprinters run with a more upright posture and lift their knees higher before driving their foot down. Their feet and ankles remain stiff upon making contact with the ground| too ¡ª “like a hammer striking a nail|” says study coauthor Ken Clark| “which caused them to have short ground contact times| large vertical forces| and elite top speeds.”

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Most athletes| on the other hand| act more like a spring when they run| says Clark. “Their foot strikes aren’t as aggressive| and their landings are a little more soft and loose|” causing much of their potential power to be absorbed rather than expended.This “normal” technique is effective for endurance running| when runners need to conserve their energy (and go easier on their joints) over longer time periods. But for short distances| says Clark| moving more like an elite sprinter may help even normal runners pick up explosive speed.

Want to add a fast finish to your next 5K? Focus on keeping your posture upright| driving your knees high| and landing squarely on the ball of your foot| keeping contact with the ground as brief as possible| says Clark. (Incidentally| all of the athletes tested in this study were forefront and mid-front strikers. The jury’s still out as to how efficient heel striking is for endurance runners| but it’s been shown to be much less effective at faster speeds.)

Of course| don’t attempt this technique for the first time in an all-out race scenario. Try it out in drills or a practice situation first to avoid injury. Then on race day| kick it into sprinting gear about 30 seconds from the finish line.

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