Sprinting Cadence & Power

With the 2013 World Champs in full swing and the Jamaican hold on the 100m titles complete for another year, I thought it was time to return to the question about running cadence.

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Earlier I said the ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute for most types of running, but in sprinting the story is a little different. Over the last few days the top performers in the 100m have turned up these results:

– Usain Bolt: 221 steps per minute (36 steps to cover 100m—meaning he covers almost three metres per step)

– Justin Gatlin: 231 (38)

– Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce: 286 (51—that’s two metres per step)

Now, because speed is a simple equation of stride length x stride rate (cadence), I can look at my own jogging speed of around 4mins/km with a cadence of about 180 and calculate I have a stride length of 1.39 metres. If I was to keep that same stride length and match the professional sprinters’ cadences above, these are the speeds I could reach:

– Bolt’s cadence + my stride length: 3:15min/km

– Gatlin’s cadence + my stride length: 3:07min/km

– Fraser-Pryce’s cadence + my stride length: 2:31min/km

With these cadences I’d be faster than jogging, but certainly not sprinting, compared to the phenomenal 1:37min/km pace that Bolt is hitting. So, to get somewhere closer to Bolt (emphasis on “somewhere”) I need to increase my stride length when sprinting in combination with my increased cadence.

So let’s take my stride length up to Fraser-Pryce’s 2 metres per step (and given she’s just 1.52m tall compared to my 1.77m, I think I should be able to manage that):

– Bolt’s cadence + 2m stride length: 2:16min/km

– Gatlin’s cadence + 2m stride length: 2:10min/km

– Fraser-Pryce’s cadence + 2m stride length: 1:45min/km

Now we’re talking.

However, there are two problems with this calculation:

  1. The leg turnover of Fraser-Pryce (at almost 5 steps per second) is insane. I just can’t see myself having anything like the fast twitch muscle fibres she has. Gatlin’s 231 steps per minute seems like a more realistic goal;
  2. You can’t just magically increase both stride length and stride rate. Something at a muscular level needs to change and that change comes predominantly through increased power.

So ultimately the question comes back to the need to increase power. But as a distance runner I’ve taught my muscles to be efficient, not so much powerful. So can a distance runner be both powerful and efficient?

The fact that most elite competitive 5k or 10k races are won with a final lap of between 53 and 55 seconds, I would say the answer is yes. And rumour has it that 10k specialists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, both trained by Alberto Salazar, have clocked around 11 seconds for a rolling 100m time trial. Similarly, Arthur Lydiard trained up double-800m gold medalist Peter Snell on a diet of endurance running and he still had the power to kick away from the quickest 800 runners on the planet.

While there is a large degree of natural talent in the above examples, it is proof that relative power and efficiency can co-habit. And if anything, the fact that the two coaches above are/were renowned for their use of the gym on one hand and the hills on the other, it does give you a couple of clues on how to at least harness, if not increase, any natural power you have within you.

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