There’s a science to running faster. Whether you’re Usain Bolt dominating the sprinting competition or Gareth Bale traveling the field as swiftly as the ball, these impressive displays of athleticism show exactly what the human body is capable of. But luckily, you don’t need to be one of the top athletes in the world to master the science of running faster. Regardless of age, size, or skill level, anyone is capable of improving their personal record.
There’s a lot of benefits that come with being fast. Running faster not only allows athletes to post noteworthy times in try-outs, during competition and in games, it also creates a more versatile athlete. Whether you’re a basketball player, football player, soccer player or a track athlete, you need to be quick. Often, speed can mean the difference between a loss and a win.
Speed encompasses much more than the 50-yard dash. Unlike a track athlete, most sports require that a player be just as quick during lateral movements.
What’s the science and physiology behind running fast?
Apart from being powerful and having good technique when running, you need to develop physical and mental capabilities to run fast. Studies suggest that genetics, muscle response, and cardiovascular system development all play a part in the science and physiology of running, as does specific training, which is a necessity for even champions like Bolt to bring out their best.
Are there distinct types of running in sports?
Four distinct types of running found in sports include lateral (moving forward and backwards) and liner (moving sideways), sprinting (running fast over a short distance) and long-distance (running slow over a longer distance). These styles of running are in most sports such as hockey, football, basketball and tennis, where standing, walking, jogging, and high-intensity sprints and endurance are needed to compete well in a game.
The Evolution of Running
Turning back the history clock, running, along with training and timing techniques have evolved significantly. Competitive running dates back the Irish Tailteann Games which began in 632 B.C and the modern Olympic Games, still held today, which derived from ancient Greece in 776 B.C However, training to run started with pedestrianism… or going for a walk. Ancient Greece competitors in pedestrianism were considered more as power-walkers rather than actual runners. Back then, race timing never existed. Instead, it was a case of who crossed the line first.
Running Training from the Mid 1700s to Today
Pedestrianism, as a sport, officially came into force in the mid-1700s. Robert Barclay Allardice, a businessperson, known as Captain Barclay due to his service in the Napoleonic Wars, became the first notable pedestrian. Captain Barclay’s training consisted mostly of walking over 20-24 miles daily, with a short half mile run early morning, and a dash mid-evening. Once a week the Captain wore heavy clothing and sprinted over 4 miles to activate the process of “sweating”.
By the 1900s, training consisted of walking, slow running, and short bouts of sprinting that would later become known as interval training. A notable runner of this era being Clarence DeMar, who trained over 100 miles weekly and won the Boston Marathon seven times. This form of training then developed with Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed the “Flying Finn” due to his ethnicity. Over his career, Nurmi claimed nine gold medals, and three silver, in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games and set a 10,000m world record of 30:06 and 5,000m world record of 14:28.2. During this era, electronic timekeeping first appeared, when Heuer, the Swiss watch manufacturer, introduced the chronometer later superseded by the Longines pocket stopwatch, then Magic Eye technology and Scan-O-Vision.
Throughout the 1900s interval training continued to evolve, until the distance backlash of the 60s and 70s where Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealand coach of Olympic dynamo Peter Snell, winner of three golds, introduced endurance training. This form of training combined running long-distance with drills, strides and form work to develop speed and a strong aerobic base. Running greats during this era included Steve Ovett, who followed aerobic development and Sebastian Coe, who enjoyed high intensity training. During the late 1990s Championchip, a Netherland tech company, introduced RFID race timing technology based on radio frequency.
Vo2 Max training and thresholds, as well as the science behind running that we know today, began in the late 1980s and 90s and have evolved ever since. Today’s world record holders such as Usain Bolt, who broke the 100m (9:58) and 200m (19:19) world records, are faster and stronger, but much of their training principles still center on pedestrianism. Race timing technology has also advanced with Omega introducing the electronic starting pistol and the Quantum Timer, with a millionth of a second accuracy.
The Science of Running Faster
The science of running faster hinges on the mechanical, neurological, muscular and neuromuscular capabilities of the human body, as well as the mental and physiological aptitude of an individual to perform in various environments. But what exactly are each of these aspects and how do they help an athlete perform better when running?
Mechanical Capabilities and Running
The study of human mechanics - the skeleton, muscles, and joints - in motion is the biomechanics of movement, where science applies laws to understand forces. For instance, a recent study conducted on Usain Bolt, the 100-meter world record sprinter, used kinematics and kinetics, movement laws, to define how the 6ft 5in Jamaican’s mechanics exerted power and energy in the 2009 Olympics. Using real-life International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) data, physicists estimated Bolt generated 81.58kJ of energy during his sprint, with over 90% of this used to overcome drag, and yet, he still broke the world record. Apart from being tall and lean, Bolt’s mechanical attributes such as shape, muscle strength and leg length all contributed to his success.
When asked about world-class sprinter mechanics, Dr Alan Neville from the University of Wolverhampton said, “The body shape of male sprinters seems to have changed. Taller, more linear individuals are emerging as the better sprinters.”
Running and Neurological and Neuromuscular Attributes
Your neurological system initiates movement in the body and consists of the central nervous system (CNS), the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the sensory and motor receptors. This system acts like a computer program telling your muscles to respond in a specific sequence, known as coordination, or the ability to turn on and off muscle response, which is controlled by the neuromuscular junction. The neuromuscular junction is where the central nervous system connects with muscle fibers. As with any other system in the body, studies show that the neurological system and neuromuscular control improves with training. One study comparing sprinters to long distance runners found that both neuro-systems in sprinters were quicker another focusing on neural influences when sprinting noted that neurological response times improve with training, as did muscle sequencing at the junction.
When asked about improving neurological and neuromuscular function, running coach Mike Antionades said, “The more you run in a certain way, the greater the number of neurons that attach to the muscle, the stronger the connection becomes, the quicker the messaging goes to the brain, the more muscles get recruited, the faster the movement.”
Muscular and Physiological Movement and Running
The human muscular system assists the body to move when running, regulates blood flow and heart and lung movement, as well as maintains posture and generates heat. Physiology, on the other hand, is the study of the organs within the body and their function when put under load or challenged. When under load, the body’s blood saturation or VO₂ max levels fall, and this increases lactate levels that inhibit muscle function. Thus, the muscular system interrelates with physiological movement. For example, a study on field-based team sports found the physiological characteristics of short duration sprinting and repeated sprinting differed. Higher VO₂ levels surfaced after 30-40m sprints compared to 15m trials, post-test lactate was also lower in the 15m trials, signifying the impact on the muscular system over long durations of activity.
When asked about muscular and physiological movement, Ithaca College sports science researcher Paul Geisler, warns that strength training goals in sports should look beyond building muscle mass. “If you focus too much on just size,” said Giesler, “you can risk compromising or losing some flexibility and elasticity of those muscles. It’s about coordination and balance and the interrelationship between all those muscles that allows players to prevent injury and perform well.”
Running, Mental Determination and Focus and Environmental Factors
Apart from looking to build mental determination to overcome fatigue when running, it’s important to develop hand-eye coordination, and also motor skills that enable you to negotiate obstacles when in full flight. A recent study highlighted this when it looked at the effects of long distance running on cognitive ability and then compared these findings to non-athletes. Results showed a distinct difference in cognition and motor skills, with the athletes having greater functionality even in a resting state. Thus, running gives you the capacity to improve your cognitive ability, as well as supports your motivation and strengthens your capacity to cope with physical and mental duress, not just during competition, but also in life.
Having strong cognition also helps you to overcome challenges, especially when your confronted with tough environmental factors such as UV exposure, heat exhaustion, altitude, pollutants, and rough terrain. A study focusing on 60 marathon races from 2001 to 2010 with over 1.7 million participants highlights how environmental factors such as air temperature and atmospheric pressure impact on running speeds and withdrawal rates. However, those competitors with impressive mental strength pushed on to complete the marathon.
When asked about mental focus in extreme environmental conditions, Kirti Bhoir one of six runners embarking on a 22-hour marathon from Pune to Mumbai, in India, said, “We had no mental conditioning on this route, so it was completely fresh, and our minds had to be active the whole time we were running adding to fatigue.” The environmental factors the six runners encountered included traffic, livestock, an unfamiliar route, spectators, the heat, and sleep deprivation.
How to Train to Run Faster
All sports differ, so athletes need to have varying levels of fitness to be competitive. A basketballer will have different skills and body composition to a track and field athlete, as will a footballer. For example, if we look at body fat percentage as a measurement of fitness, we’ll discover that a track and field athlete will have a far lower body fat percentage than a professional footballer. But what are the exact athletic needs of these and other sports?
According to a study central midfielders run less than 8 miles per game, with strikers and defenders running 6 miles, and goalkeepers around 3 miles. Therefore, footballers need to be powerful, as at an elite level they typically run 40-yard dash in around 4.3 seconds. Therefore, for footballers to be competitive, they need to work on their conditioning to produce greater speed when running. The ideal way to increase speed is through metabolic training, which takes a player’s lateral and backward game movements during play into consideration so that they build strength and power in the required muscles to produce greater speed. By using a metabolic running program that simulates quarters, this is achievable.
Running an average of 7 miles per game, soccer players need an elevated level of fitness to play well. Soccer players tend to be lean, and have an excellent cardiovascular system. Plus, they are quick and flexible. But in terms of power apart from their legs, they don’t need much else. With soccer players changing direction during play and needing both sprint and endurance capabilities, it’s important to follow a training program that uses maximum aerobic speed and pushes a player to reach their VO₂ max.
Research suggests that midfielders and forwards cover up to 8 miles per game, defenders travel up to 4 miles per match, while goalkeepers only cover around 1 mile. Hockey players need to be flexible and powerful, have good body composition, and high cardiovascular fitness to compete well. Conditioning in hockey is more than cardiovascular and muscle development; it also helps an athlete understand how to meet the energy demands of the sport. Tempo Runs are one of the best training programs for hockey conditioning.
A study suggests that over an 11-hour 5-minute tennis game players covered 5.9 miles. However, the distance players cover can vary from match-to-match. With tennis matches lasting for hours and players darting in all directions to get to the ball, it’s important that athletes look to do a strength and conditioning program that focuses on interval, pace and tempo, and endurance training.
The distance traveled as a track athlete when competing depends entirely on whether you’re a short or long-distance runner. Sprinters will typically compete in 100m, 200m and 400m events, while long-distance runners will thrive when competing over 800m, 1600m and 3200m or in a marathon over miles. Therefore, following workouts that are relative to your preferred distance will help you to increase your muscle strength, power and response speeds, so that you can post competitive track times. Plus, they also build-up your levels of endurance.
Basketballers travel, on average, over 2.55 miles in a game. Given this distance, basketball players need good cardiovascular fitness, along with anaerobic power, and muscular strength and endurance. Following a combined program that includes strength, agility, blocking, drills, and conditioning will effectively increase your skills for game-play.
Boost Running Performance with the Right Equipment and Drills
With over 650 muscles in the human body that control various aspects of movement, it’s difficult to know if you’re training the right muscles to dominate the competition. So rather than wasting hours doing drills that give you little or no benefit, use the right equipment and follow drills and invest in equipment that allow you to see improvements.
With speed, strength, and power being the main considerations in most sports, as well as endurance, players from all fields are looking to improve their capabilities in the least amount of time, so that they are competitive. However, finding the most effective way to do this, in a sport-specific context, is not a straightforward process. This scenario is when Vertimax, the only training system that applies resistance to athletes while they practice game-play movements, becomes a vital training component. Not only does Vertimax challenge mental, muscular, and physiological movement, but it also stimulates neurological and neuromuscular activity, as well as an athlete’s mechanical capabilities, regardless of their sporting pursuit.
Maximum Acceleration and Speed Gains
Leave your 40-yard-dash competition behind when you drop your 40 using one of the most advanced speed training systems on the market. Using resistance to train all muscles during motion, you’ll develop the explosive power needed to get head-turning results.
Justin Gaitlin Speed Training
American 100m and 200m sprinter and Olympic Gold medalist, Justin Gaitlin, uses the resistance Vertimax delivers with each step to improve his power gains and speed when on track. Gaitlin says that the consistent resistance leads to consistent speed, consistent strength, and to his consistent success.