Last Updated on May 10, 2020 by Jimson Lee
I was observing a track practice recently and noticed sprinters coming out of the blocks onto a 10 meter acceleration ladder. I counted the steps and it was exactly seven (7).
The 10 meter mark is easy to see because that is the end of the 4x100m relay passing zone.
First, for the 100m and 110m hurdles, I understand the importance of strides to the first hurdle. The reason is your lead leg. (400mH can alternate, which is another story) So depending on your lead leg, and your preference for your rear block setting, that number will be either 7 or 8.
But back to the 100 meter sprint. Why 7 Strides for the first 10 meters?
I asked them (in my broken Italian) and they said they read it somewhere. Some great coach must have noticed this, and therefore it was the rule.
Seven is the magic number?
Thanks to the USATF’s Andy Ferrara, we have high speed videos of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic 100 meter final.
If you take a look, and compare their splits, you will see Richard Thomson hitting 10 meters in exactly 7 steps. Thompson’s split was 1.80 compared to Bolt’s 1.85, but BOLT TOOK SIX STEPS. (in Berlin 2009, Bolt was 1.89 for the first 10 meters)
Thompson was faster than Bolt for 10 meters. Well golly-gee, seven must be the optimal number, right? That guru was correct?
Let’s take a look at the next 10m. At 20m, Bolt is AHEAD by Thompson by 0.02 (2.87 to 2.89)
I don’t need to do the rest of the math as we all know the outcome.
Sure, Bolt is taking LONGER to reach a fixed number of strides (i.e. first 10 strides = 2.62 seconds compared to Thompson at 2.50 seconds!), but last time I checked, they gave gold medals for the fastest time over 100m, not 10 strides, or 41 strides for that matter.
Somehow, the sweet spot (or PB or WR) lies somewhere in between your stride rate and stride frequency. Coupled that with tremendous power on the ground while you have ground contact. There’s nothing you can do while in the air unless you have wings.
With the emergence of Bolt, we have a new group of people advocating the longer stride theory again.
We can go back as early as Bud Winter’s group with the longer strides theory, which can be clearly demonstrated by Tommie Smith. Refer to his book, “So You Want to be a Sprinter?” if you are lucky to own a copy (they sell for over $150 in the rare book section)
(Side note: Bud Winter actually advocated 3 rules, the other two were higher cadence or “leg speed”, and maintaining your top end speed)
Take a look at Carl Lewis or Mike Marsh videos from the 1980s and 1990’s and you can see the long stride theory made everyone rethink their mechanics.
Then Andre Cason showed how a fast cadence with shorter strides could do the trick. When Maurice Green dominated the sprints, he (and John Smith) had us believing it was all in the cadence. Even today, Walter Dix took 48 strides!
Dwain Chambers has his theories on how to beat Bolt. From: https://speedendurance.com/2008/12/02/dwain-chambers-on-usain-bolt-asafa-powell-stride-length-and-stride-frequency/
Chambers, who says that “attention to detail” in coaching has been the key to Jamaica becoming the sprint capital of the world, is confident of beating Bolt in 2009.
“Usain can do the 100 meters in 41 strides,” Chambers said. “I would take 43 or 44. But I have better stride frequency: 4.96 per second compared to 4.65. To beat him I need to maintain my frequency and improve my stride. Beijing was his time to shine, but he’s only human.”
So now we are back where it all began with the longer stride theory. To me, it’s a correct assumption, IF the longer stride is a result of greater leg and hip strength and power.
Plus running relaxed, of course!
UPDATE from London 2012
Athletes in Lanes, from Left to Right (with number of strides to 10m mark):
- 9 Gerald Phiri (7.5)
- 8 Richard Thompson (7.0)
- 7 Ryan Bailey (7.0)
- 6 Daniel Bailey (7.0)
- 5 Dwain Chambers (7.0)
- 4 Usain Bolt (6.5)
- 3 Su Bingtian (7.5)
- 2 Antoine Adams (7.5)