Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2000 Nov;89(5):1991-9. doi: 10.1152/jappl.2000.89.5.1991.


We twice tested the hypothesis that top running speeds are determined by the amount of force applied to the ground rather than how rapidly limbs are repositioned in the air. First, we compared the mechanics of 33 subjects of different sprinting abilities running at their top speeds on a level treadmill. Second, we compared the mechanics of declined (-6 degrees ) and inclined (+9 degrees ) top-speed treadmill running in five subjects. For both tests, we used a treadmill-mounted force plate to measure the time between stance periods of the same foot (swing time, t(sw)) and the force applied to the running surface at top speed. To obtain the force relevant for speed, the force applied normal to the ground was divided by the weight of the body (W(b)) and averaged over the period of foot-ground contact (F(avge)/W(b)). The top speeds of the 33 subjects who completed the level treadmill protocol spanned a 1.8-fold range from 6.2 to 11.1 m/s. Among these subjects, the regression of F(avge)/W(b) on top speed indicated that this force was 1.26 times greater for a runner with a top speed of 11.1 vs. 6.2 m/s. In contrast, the time taken to swing the limb into position for the next step (t(sw)) did not vary (P = 0.18). Declined and inclined top speeds differed by 1.4-fold (9.96+/-0.3 vs. 7.10+/-0.3 m/s, respectively), with the faster declined top speeds being achieved with mass-specific support forces that were 1.3 times greater (2.30+/- 0.06 vs. 1.76+/-0.04 F(avge)/ W(b)) and minimum t(sw) that were similar (+8%). We conclude that human runners reach faster top speeds not by repositioning their limbs more rapidly in the air, but by applying greater support forces to the ground.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Running / physiology*