The magic behind Usain Bolt’s stride

11 April 2019

University of Waikato’s Dr Kim Hébert-Losier is based at the Adams Centre for High Performance in Mt Maunganui.

Biomechanics is assisting researchers to find out more about what powered the success of one of the greatest sprinters of all time.

University of Waikato’s ​Dr Kim Hébert-Losier​ is based at the Adams Centre for High Performance in Mt Maunganui. She’s used her expertise as a world -leading biomechanics researcher to work with colleagues analysing Bolt’s movement during one of his 100 metre sprint races.

Bolt won the 100 metre sprint at the IAAF World Challenge in Zagreb, Croatia in 2011. His time was 9.85 seconds. The researchers set up high speed cameras along the last 60-90 metres of the track. This section of the race is normally where the top speeds are achieved. They only captured about 3 seconds of footage, but the video camera was collecting 300 frames per second, so that provided 900 individual images to examine. They went through the videos frame by frame, identifying key body segments to reconstruct the way he ran.

Conventionally, being tall is not seen as being advantageous for sprinting mechanics. Bolt is 1.95 metres tall. Dr Hébert-Losier says Bolt does do things differently to your typical sprinter, including the way he uses his height. “Through the years, 100 metre and 200 metre winners are starting to shift, they are starting to be taller. And Usain Bolt is in that range.”

Because Bolt is so tall, he takes less strides to cover the same distance. “In this particular race he took 41 strides, as opposed to most of the others who took about 45 strides. He takes less steps to cover his distance, and each of those steps tends to be more powerful than that of other runners.” Bolt can also put more force into the ground. “We estimated he put more than four times his body weight of force into the ground, in order to be faster than the others.”

In terms of running biomechanics (study of forces and their effects on living organisms), Dr Hébert-Losier says he’s applying that force in an efficient way. “When he puts his foot on the ground he spends less time breaking and more time pushing. He slows down less for every time he hits the ground. You’re always going to break a little during running because it is physically impossible to land with your foot right underneath your body, but he very quickly goes into the push phase of running."

National Biomechanics Day​ is the 11th April 2019. Join universities across NZ and learn about an important science in a fun way. We incorporate world class technology such as VR, motion capture, force plates, electromyography, and more to engage and inspire school students.

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