Usain Bolt Running Form: Sprinting & Easy Running

Jan 22, 2012   //   by James Dunne   //   Running Technique Advice  //  6 Comments

What We As Endurance Athletes Can Learn From Usain Bolt.

There are obvious differences between the physical demands of running a marathon and performing a 100m sprint. However, as endurance athletes, it’s improtant to note that there are some technique qualities shown by Usain Bolt in the sprinting clip below which are equally desirable across all ranges of distance and pace. In particular:

  • The foot landing under his hips – No overstride, therefore no excessive braking
  • The lack of rotation through the torso – No wasted energy through rotation
  • The way in which he doesn’t “bounce” at all – No wasted energy through vertical displacement

However there are some sprint specific elements which are not appropriate for distance running. In particular the very high forefoot position sprinters adopt (never allowing the heel to touch after a forefoot strike). Even with forefoot/midfoot striking distance runners, we ideally like to see the heel “kiss” the ground after the initial forefoot/midfoot contact and load.

In this second clip below (of Bolt cooling down) post race, it’s clear to see that while his technique is very different at slower paces, he still shows elements of great running form.

The foot still lands under his hips, but this time (because he’s not sprinting) he allows the heel to touch the ground bringing the foot to a flat position on the ground as he loads fully. There is a little more bounce compared to his sprinting technique. Still he maintains a relatively rotation-free torso and a straight posture.

Although the speed is less, and therefore the magnitude of the movements and the overall stride length is less, he doesn’t revert to a lazy stride and cadence, you can clearly see that he still actively picks his foot off the floor – even at this slow speed – rather than pulling the swing leg through lazily relying on the hip flexors, as we see with so many athletes as lower paces.

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

6 Comments

  • Great videos. Many running technique coaches say that sprinters lean 10-15 degrees forward from the ankles at top speed and therefore the faster you run, the more you should lean forward. It looks to me like these guys have a smaller (3-5 degree forward lean) with the 3 keys to an engaged stride. The cool-down video is a great illustration that running technique is not fundamentally different for sprinting vs distance running. Thanks for posting!

  • Amazing video. Can’t believe how still his torso is, the lack of bounce and the foot landing position under knee. Thanks for posting.

  • I have recently read Iron War and the section where Matt Fitzgerald describes Stephen McGregor’s research was particularly interesting. I think while looking at Usain in slow mode you can identify those key technical aspects of torso rotation, foot drop and bounce sprinting is probably more reliant on ‘perfect technique” over longer endurance races because of the fine line and short space of time with which to run the perfect race.
    The fact that focusing on technique while running expends energy which could be more better utilised throughout a longer race makes me wonder if technique is as important in endurance racing. Dave Scott had a shocking technique yet even the top pro men struggle to achieve the times he was capable despite the advancements in technology.
    I have seen the footage you posted of Crowie vs Chris Lieto and agree somewhat but it seems as though the most important thing is not heel striking. The rest of the improved technique should develop naturally through developed core and muscle adaptation to run harder, faster and longer.

    What do you think about the importance of techinque as the distance of the race increases?

  • Hi Stew, thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Indeed, there is a real trade-off between good form and energy expenditure when it comes to running over long distances.

    If we take a theoretical model of “perfect technique”, it would require the vast majority of us to expend significant effort to achieve and maintain this form over even a relatively short distance, at a chosen speed. This is clearly not efficient use of energy and effort.

    Our sport is all about measured use of energy… there are no prizes for the “prettiest form”!

    This is why, as endurance coaches we focus on identifying the elements of an athlete’s existing technique that we need to work on improving, and those elements that we’ll leave alone – based on injury history and distance goals.

    We don’t need our Ironman athletes for example, to be striving for text-book form in the same way that we would expect from a sprinter who doesn’t care how much energy he uses over 10 seconds. The sprinter knows he’s going to “empty the tank” over the 100m, while the Ironman athlete has to take the completely opposite and measured approach.

    Instead the focus is on optimising the Ironman athlete’s technique to reduce energy wasted and injuries caused through unwanted movements and dysfunctional patterns. This makes far more sense than expending extra energy to achieve a pre-determined form – that would be madness for an endurance athlete!

    To answer your question:

    Our view is that technique remains important no matter the distance of the race… perhaps even more so as the distance increases. It’s important to address technique as a means to maintain efficiency of movement, avoid excessive impact and prevent overuse injuries, while working at a desired level of exertion, rather than forcing yourself to work unsustainably hard to achieve a certain form.

    This however, comes with a caveat. At no point would we expect to see a distance runner forcing themselves to expend more effort and energy to achieve a certain “perfect form”. A sprinter, yes, but a distance athlete no.

    I completely agree that for some runners a big improvement in form and efficiency will be found through improved core strength and muscular adaptation, and investing the miles. But so many runners have dysfunctional movement patterns and weak-links, and would simply exacerbate their issues with increased milage. For these guys in particular, subtle and sustainable technique changes and a specific strength / conditioning program will work wonders and allow the milage to then safely increase.

  • [...] Check out this neat video of Usain Bolt running in Slo-Mo. It’s tough to not be too cynical with these guys, but isn’t it just a matter of time until he sits down with Oprah? [...]

  • name is linus udie I am 17years old I am a sprinter, I run 11.3 seconds in 100meters am looking for a way to showcase my talent in any competition, pls am looking for a sponsor.

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