Sprinters lift their knees higher before driving their foot down, like a hammer striking a nail, says Clark.

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Shape magazine reporter Amanda MacMillan has covered the research of SMU researcher Ken Clark, a doctoral student and researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory. The lab and research are under the direction of SMU biomechanics expert Peter G. Weyand, associate professor of applied physiology and biomechanics.

Clark’s and Weyand’s new research found that the world’s fastest sprinters have unique gait features that account for their ability to achieve fast speeds.

The new findings indicate that the secret to elite sprinting speeds lies in the distinct limb dynamics sprinters use to elevate ground forces upon foot-ground impact.

The Shape article, “How to run like an elite sprinter,” published Aug. 26.

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By Amanda MacMillan

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 donuts 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—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 versus 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—”like a hammer striking a nail,” says study co-author Ken Clark, “which caused them to have short ground contact times, large vertical forces, and elite top speeds.”

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.

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