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Elite Sprinting: Are Athletes Individually Step-Frequency or Step-Length Reliant?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 6 - p 1055-1062
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318201f6f8
Applied Sciences

Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate the step characteristics among the very best 100-m sprinters in the world to understand whether the elite athletes are individually more reliant on step frequency (SF) or step length (SL).

Methods: A total of 52 male elite-level 100-m races were recorded from publicly available television broadcasts, with 11 analyzed athletes performing in 10 or more races. For each run of each athlete, the average SF and SL over the whole 100-m distance was analyzed. To determine any SF or SL reliance for an individual athlete, the 90% confidence interval (CI) for the difference between the SF-time versus SL-time relationships was derived using a criterion nonparametric bootstrapping technique.

Results: Athletes performed these races with various combinations of SF and SL reliance. Athlete A10 yielded the highest positive CI difference (SL reliance), with a value of 1.05 (CI = 0.50-1.53). The largest negative difference (SF reliance) occurred for athlete A11 as −0.60, with the CI range of −1.20 to 0.03.

Conclusions: Previous studies have generally identified only one of these variables to be the main reason for faster running velocities. However, this study showed that there is a large variation of performance patterns among the elite athletes and, overall, SF or SL reliance is a highly individual occurrence. It is proposed that athletes should take this reliance into account in their training, with SF-reliant athletes needing to keep their neural system ready for fast leg turnover and SL-reliant athletes requiring more concentration on maintaining strength levels.

1Sport and Exercise Science, University of Bath, Bath, UNITED KINGDOM; 2Cardiff School of Sport, University of Wales Institute Cardiff, Cardiff, UNITED KINGDOM; and 3Health and Social Care Institute, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Aki I.T. Salo, Ph.D., Sport and Exercise Science, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2010.

Accepted for publication October 2010.

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine