How do elite runners run so fast?

Science suggests that it's the length of flight that separates elite runners from the rest...

Credit: The Secret Studio

The secret to increased run speed? According to recent research from the University of Salford, it’s all about mimicking LeBron James.

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Senior research fellow Dr Steve Preece and his colleagues compared the technique of recreational runners with a 10km PB no better than 38mins for men, 42mins for women, against elite runners with PBs under 32mins (men) and 36mins (women), over a range of track speeds. “We found elite runners achieved an 11% longer ‘flight time’,” said Preece.

So that’s down to stride length and rate, right? No, that increased air time – from a more powerful toe-off – stemmed from increased storage of elastic energy in the Achilles tendon during the early phase of the run gait, which paid off during the second half. Not only did this greater air time result in more speed but the potential for reduced injury as, on landing, the foot was more aligned with the centre of mass.

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So, if your body’s up to it, weekly plyometric sessions will help up power, airtime and speed. 

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