Date Published: July 24, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Thomas A. Haugen, Felix Breitschädel, Stephen Seiler, Leonardo A. Peyré-Tartaruga.
The main aim of this investigation was to quantify differences in sprint mechanical variables across sports and within each sport. Secondary aims were to quantify sex differences and relationships among the variables.
In this cross-sectional study of elite athletes, 235 women (23 ± 5 y and 65 ± 7 kg) and 431 men (23 ± 4 y and 80 ± 12 kg) from 23 different sports (including 128 medalists from World Championships and/or Olympic Games) were tested in a 40-m sprint at the Norwegian Olympic Training Center between 1995 and 2018. These were pre-existing data from quarterly or semi-annual testing that the athletes performed for training purposes. Anthropometric and speed-time sprint data were used to calculate the theoretical maximal velocity, horizontal force, horizontal power, slope of the force-velocity relationship, maximal ratio of force, and index of force application technique.
Substantial differences in mechanical profiles were observed across sports. Athletes in sports in which sprinting ability is an important predictor of success (e.g., athletics sprinting, jumping and bobsleigh) produced the highest values for most variables, whereas athletes in sports in which sprinting ability is not as important tended to produce substantially lower values. The sex differences ranged from small to large, depending on variable of interest. Although most of the variables were strongly associated with 10- and 40-m sprint time, considerable individual differences in sprint mechanical variables were observed among equally performing athletes.
Our data from a large sample of elite athletes tested under identical conditions provides a holistic picture of the force-velocity-power profile continuum in athletes. The data indicate that sprint mechanical variables are more individual than sport specific. The values presented in this study could be used by coaches to develop interventions that optimize the training stimulus to the individual athlete.
Running a short distance as fast as possible is a core capacity in many sports. For a sprinter competing in athletics, 100 m and 200 m, this capability alone defines them as performers. In bobsleigh, athletes are required to sprint while moving an external mass. Sprinting capacity is also crucial in most team sports, as the ability to either create or close small gaps can be decisive in goal scoring situations. Even in typical endurance sports, explosive acceleration ability (in the context of their slow-twitch dominant peers) can be a medal-winning advantage at the finish of a close race. Accordingly, numerous sprint training studies across a wide range of sports have been performed over the years. Sprinting under assisted, resisted and normal conditions, maximal and explosive strength training, plyometric training and high-intensity running have all been investigated in different combinations [1–3]. Although the principle of specificity is clearly present, no training methods have so far emerged as superior. Individual predispositions must therefore be considered when prescribing training programs.
To keep the results within reasonable limits, only a summary of the results is presented in this section. However, additional comparisons across category means can be performed by inserting data from the supplementary file into Hopkins’ spreadsheet .
To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore and compare underlying physiological and mechanical variables of sprint performance across a wide range of sports. Up to very large and even extremely large differences in sprint mechanical variables were observed across sports. Overall, sports in which sprinting ability is an important predictor of success scored the highest values for most variables, while sports involving other locomotion modalities than running tended to produce substantially lower values. The current data from a large sample of elite athletes tested under identical conditions provides a holistic picture of the Fv profile continuum in sprinting athletes. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss each of the analysed variables more in detail.
In the present study, substantial differences in sprint mechanical properties were observed across sports. Based on these findings, some may argue that the chronic practice of an activity induces different Fv profiles in sprint running over time. However, the large spread within each discipline, in addition to the large overlap across sports, indicate that such variables are more individual than sport specific. Most sprint mechanical variables are strongly correlated with sprint performance level, in line with the laws of motion. Indeed, when split times and anthropometric data form basis for calculations of multiple variables, it is reasonable to expect high correlations among them. Based on these considerations, practitioners may question the practical relevance of such variables, as they are entwined, and in some cases, mere ‘different explanations of the same story’. However, while split time data provide a basis for convenient analysis on the field, sprint mechanical variables may provide deeper insights into individual biomechanical limitations. The values presented here can be used by practitioners to develop individual training interventions.