Purpose: Although sprint performance undoubtedly involves muscle power, the stiffness of the leg also determines sprint performance while running at maximal velocity. Results that include both of these characteristics have not been directly obtained in previous studies on human runners. We have therefore studied the link between leg power, leg stiffness, and sprint performance.
Methods: The acceleration and maximal running velocity developed by 11 subjects (age 16 +/- 1) during a 40-m sprint were measured by radar. Their leg muscle volumes were estimated anthropometrically. Leg power was measured by an ergometric treadmill test and by a hopping test. Each subject executed a maximal sprint acceleration on the treadmill equipped with force and speed transducers, from which forward power was calculated. A hopping jump test was executed at 2 Hz on a force platform. Leg stiffness was calculated using the flight and contact times of the hopping test.
Results: The treadmill forward leg power was correlated with both the initial acceleration (r = 0.80, P < 0.01) and the maximal running velocity (r = 0.73, P < 0.05) during track sprinting. The leg stiffness calculated from hopping was significantly correlated with the maximal velocity but not with acceleration.
Conclusion: Although muscle power is needed for acceleration and maintaining a maximal velocity in sprint performance, high leg stiffness may be needed for high running speed. The ability to produce a stiff rebound during the maximal running velocity could be explored by measuring the stiffness of a rebound during a vertical jump.