Running a Better Bend by DJ Hicks

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[DJ Hicks is a recent graduate of Houston Baptist University and the Athletic Lab Coaches Mentorship at Athletic Lab. DJ is currently an assistant coach at Valparaiso University]

Usain-Bolt-London-2012-200m-CurveBend running is a highly important aspect of the sprint races that occur on them, and is something that is often times given little attention and modest examination. Specifically considering the bends that we see on a standard 400m outdoor track, it is very clear that typical linear path sprint mechanics must be altered in order to meet the demands of the curve. But the question is: to what extent? And how? The common understanding is to “lean into the curve,” but I feel that this cue may be inadequate because of the degree to which the athlete reasons they should be leaning.

It is no secret that the inside lanes are tighter than those on the outside. The lanes are layered one on top of the other (1-9), and as each lane increases, so does its radius. Comparing lane #1 to #9 at the 200m start, #1 is fixed at a radius of 36.80m (0.00) and #9 is at 46.56m (37.73), which is a great difference when considering the impact this has on a sprinter’s inside leg (Berry).

Excluding the physiological factors that come with lane draw, and all other things being equal, it is MUCH MORE beneficial to draw lane #9 over #1… or for that matter, any other lane.  Lane #9 has the widest radius, and is therefore the most advantageous curve to maintain optimal linear sprint mechanics because it is least detrimental to a sprinter’s form.

Curve running inhibits leg symmetry. While sprinting, symmetrical force application between the legs maximizes an athlete’s sprint speed, which is most evident on straight paths. Attempting to match this near perfect symmetrical action on a bend is just not possible because of the nature of the curve. As the lanes radius decreases, asymmetry increases.

This asymmetry occurs because the inside leg is not able to produce the same amount of force as the outside (Chang and Kram, 2007). With the smaller radius expressed in the lower lanes, a greater amount of centripetal force must be produced which, again, is a diversion away from what is best.

My point is not that we should abstain from leaning, because some obviously must occur, but that we should approach the challenge in a different manner. Telling an athlete to lean without expressing clearly how can lead to the athlete believing that they should excessively lean at the waist, but doing this would only result in the inside leg expressing less force than it already is on a curve. I believe that cueing other body parts such as the head, neck, and arms in different manners, depending on the athlete, will result in efficiently ran bends and faster times on account of athletes not sacrificing posture to negotiate the curves.

References

  • Berry, Nick. “Running Track Geometry.” Data Genetics. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • Chang, Young-Hui, and Rodger Kram. “Limitations to Maximum Running Speed on Flat Curves.” Jeb.biologist.org. N.p., 2007. Web.
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