Sprinters: Born or Made?

Want to Run Faster? Here’s How” was the title of an article that caught my eye. By blindly clicking on it, I was assuming that the author was going to give some exercises, stretches, or drills that track coaches use when working with their sprinters. My thinking was that there might be some portion of the article that you would benefit from reading.

Boy, was I surprised. The article discussed new research that shows, “The skeletal structure of the foot and ankle are significantly different between sprinters and non-sprinters.” Hmm….really?

Researchers analyzed the MRIs of 16 men (8 sprinters, 8 control subjects) and found that—not only were sprinters’ Achilles tendons 12 percent shorter than non-sprinters, the sprinters had longer bones in their forefeet.

“What’s interesting about this finding is, we don’t know whether these sprinters were simply born this way or if their bodies adapted this way due to training as they grew up,” says Josh Baxter, study author and Ph.D. student at Penn State.

Personally, I find it really hard to believe that these eight sprinters (or all sprinters, as this study is implying) were born with shortened Achilles tendons and longer foot bones. I believe that we are all born with the same general design and our bodies all follow the same design blueprint. The only major structural difference between men and women is the pelvis. Our bodies are 99.999999% the same, with the only exception being at the hip joint. The pelvis is slightly wider in women to allow for birthing, and as a result, the head of the femur sits at a slightly different angle as it travels out of the pelvis and down toward the knee joint. With such similarities in the human body, regardless of gender, it’s hard for me to imagine that sprinters and non-sprinters would differ so greatly. In addition, I think the researchers are making a very broad assessment without looking at a broad scope of subjects.

My belief is that these differences are strictly developmental. A similar study would be to analyze the muscle mass and tendon length of 16 men but this time split them into groups of professional bodybuilders and non-bodybuilders. Here’s what I’m guessing we’ll find: The 8 bodybuilders have more muscle mass and shorter tendons, while the 8 non-bodybuilders have less muscle mass and longer tendons. Does that mean that ALL bodybuilders are born with more muscle mass and shorter tendons? No, it means that their bodies developed that way. It does not mean that their shoulder joints and elbows joints are structurally different, thus enabling them to get bigger, or faster, or stronger, etc. Their bodies have simply adapted to the work they have done.

What I did like about the study was the contribution by David Jack, a Men’s Health advisor and director of Teamworks Fitness in Acton, Mass., on how to increase your speed and performance when sprinting. Check out his #1 suggestion:

Fix Your Posture
If you spend a good portion of the day sitting at a desk, your posture is most likely taking a hit for it. Your chest gets tighter, your back weaker, and your shoulders roll forward. The result: Your sprinting becomes less efficient. “So if we concentrate on our posture, it helps us unlock everything and allows our body to move in a full range of monition,” says Jack.

Think of fixing your posture as knocking the rust off, says Jack. “We can try and run as fast as we want,” says Jack. “But if we can’t get our body to get up straight and get our hips and legs to extend—we’re just paddling upstream.”

Jack, I couldn’t agree more. Too many folks (athletes and non-athletes) are attempting to do things that their body just can’t functionally do because their posture isn’t correctly aligned. At the very minimum their body isn’t doing their favorite activity efficiently. They might not have any pain doing it (yet), but they could almost certainly be doing it more efficiently than they are now.

If you’re ready to attack your posture and eliminate your pain while restoring efficiency, here is a good place to start. If you have questions about what to do after getting stared don’t hesitate to call us at 615.771.8556 or email me at johne@egoscue.com.

QUESTION: Do you think sprinters are born or made?