The athletics world was stunned by Usain Bolt's performance at the Beijing Olympics. Not only did he decimate the World Record in the 100m and 200m, he made it look easy. It's obvious, too, that he could have run faster in the 100m if he hadn't showboated in the last 15 meters.
Bolt flew to victory on a magic carpet—a bigger stride angle.
The stride angle is the maximum opening between the front and back thighs. It usually occurs at toe-off or just after. The stride angle is critical for running speed because research has shown that for every degree you increase your stride angle, you increase your stride length by 2%. This means that if your stride angle is only 5° bigger than your opponent's, you will cover 10% more ground with each stride. It is almost impossible to keep up with (let alone pass) a runner who is covering 10% more ground than you are.
Videotape is actually a series of still photos recorded at 30 frames per second. This means a single frame is 1/30th of a second. When we analyze runners, we advance the video frame-by-frame until we reach their maximum stride angle, and then we measure the number of degrees.
Bolt's Flying Carpet
Here are the photos from the 200m final at Beijing of Bolt's stride angle.
|Stride Angle @ Toe-Off||Stride Angle|
Let's take a look at the number two man in the 200m final. You can see by the size of his thighs and shoulders that this is a runner who thought that bulking up by lifting heavy weights was going to earn him a Gold Medal.
|Stride Angle @ Toe-Off||Stride Angle|
Our #2 man had a stride angle that was 9° less than Bolt's stride angle—which means that he was covering 18% less ground with than Bolt with each stride!
How can you possibly keep up with someone who is covering 18% more ground than you are?
Bolt can be faster
Now that the steroids era in track is winding down, we are beginning to see what we saw more than 20 years ago—the biggest stride angle is winning the race. We also saw that in the men's marathon where winner Samuel Wanjiru led the field with a 106° stride angle—the biggest we have ever seen in a marathon.
Now we see it in the sprints.
Even though Bolt won both his races with a 114° stride angle, it could be even bigger, as you can see from the photos below of one of our runners.
Improving Stride Efficiency
It should be obvious from our analysis, that success in the sprints will not come from more strength (the slower runners in the 100m and 200m were obviously stronger than Bolt), but from improving their stride angle.
The first step is to videotape and measure the stride.
The next step is to increase it.
The only way to do this is to release microfibers (scar tissue) that have developed in the connective tissue between the hip and leg muscles from lifting heavy weights.
Sprinters increase their strength when they lift heavy weights because weight lifting tears the tiny, individual muscle fibers that make up each muscle. As these tiny fibers (there are tens of thousands of them in each muscle) repair, they become bigger and stronger.
We call this form of training ‘tear and repair'.
Steroids speed up the repair process, which is why they have been so popular with sprinters. Sprinters on steroids could ‘tear and repair' more often, increasing their size and strength even more than before.
Unfortunately, scar tissue also forms within and around the muscles in order to aid the repair process. This scar tissue (microfibrosis) does not go away after it has formed. In fact, it accumulates over time, making the sprinter stiffer year by year. This is why bulked-up sprinters have such short careers. They quickly lose their stride angle from ‘tearing and repairing' their muscles.
At Somax we release these microfibers, which makes an impressive increase in the stride angle.
|Before Somax||After Somax|
The runner above increased his stride angle from 95° to 125° after we released microfibers in his hips. Since he improved his stride angle 30°, he was covering 60% more ground with each stride. When he returned to his high school track team, his coach asked his parents where he got his ‘mile-long stride'.
As we noted above, microfibers (scar tissue) develop both within and round the muscles as a result of lifting heavy weights. It is the microfibers that form in the connective tissue between the muscles that do the most damage. They are the ones that decrease flexibility the most. Since they are scar tissue, they cannot be released from the connective tissue by stretching. Heavy weight lifters find that stretching offers little or no improvement to their flexibility or stride angle.
The drawing below shows the relationship of this connective tissue to the muscles of the leg.
Normally, the connective tissue membranes (white) between the muscles (red) are smooth. They allow the muscles to slide past each other, which they have to do in order to stretch.
But when you have even a mild injury (falls on court), overuse (lifting weights, running) or stress , microfibers form as part of the healing process to immobilize the area. Microfibers are nature's internal cast.
Unfortunately, once the area has healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making athletes stiffer with age.
If sprinters try to increase their speed by lifting heavier weights, they are increasing their stiffness week by week. As they become stronger, they also become more inefficient.
Their stride angle declines and they cover less ground with each stride.
This results in a plateau in their times. Since neither the coach nor sprinter would ever suspect strength training as the cause of the plateau, the sprinters often assume that there is some ‘mental' or ‘genetic' problem when their times don't improve. These assumptions only make things worse, as they demoralize the athlete.
For decades, sprinters have trained with increasingly heavy weights to increase their speed.
But those days are gone.
By winning the 2008 Olympic sprints with a 114° stride angle, Usain Bolt has suddenly raised the bar, just as Samuel Wanjiru has done in the marathon—with a massively superior stride angle.
Anyone who hopes to beat Bolt will have to train and race with a 120° stride angle. This can be done by releasing microfibers and training with frame-by-frame videotape analysis.
In the past, the importance of flexibility in the sprints was diminished by the wide-spread use of steroids. But now, with the smashing success of Usain Bolt, sprinters who want to be competitive will have to massively increase their flexibility.