Longer toes run fast

No doubt that genetics play a large role in your athletic potential, but how about having longer toes to enhance your sprinting ability? A 2009 study out of Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Kinesiology compared 12 collegiate sprinters with 12 healthy males of equal height. The authors found that longer toes especially prolonged the time of contact, giving greater time for forward acceleration to allow athletes to run faster.

This prolonged ground contact (see Sparta Point 1/6/10) is crucial for acceleration, the most important part of sprinting, for non-track athletes at least. Acceleration refers to the initial portion of a sprint, generally the first 10 to 30 yards, or meters, depending on your sport. This phase comprises the relative majority of time in a sprint because you must increase your running speed from a standstill to maximum velocity. Because few sports involve repeated runs of over 30 meters straight ahead, non-track athletes need to further focus on this acceleration aspect.

This concept of enhancing running performance through a longer contact time, a biomechanical variable known as impulse (see Sparta Point 1/27/10), applies to other movements as well. For example, at Sparta, we gauge athletes’ impulse by analyzing a vertical jump on a force plate. While other factors play a role, this impulse allows us to gauge how an athlete is able to propel themselves vertically. Each individual has an innate movement pattern dictated by their nervous system, so the impulse performance is shown by the athlete in other planes as well. Baseball pitchers with higher impulses tend to load and drive off the rubber in a more prolonged fashion and basketball players can keep a wider defensive stance.

Resistance training is one of the best ways to enhance impulse, particularly single leg lifts, as the added weight forces the athlete to stabilize and control the movement over a longer period of time.

Since making your toes longer isn’t always the best option, a solid program of lunges and step-ups are a great start to improving that impulse for improved acceleration…assuming you are already squatting.