Usain Bolt Running Form While Sprinting and Jogging

The below videos provide some great footage of Usain Bolt’s sprinting and jogging gaits. In the first, you’ll notice that Bolt has the characteristic ball-of-of foot touchdown seen in sprinters, and it appears that most of the time his heel does not touch down at all (note – distance runners should not attempt to emulate Bolt’s sprinting form!). It’s amazing to watch how he reaches out with his lower leg, but then pulls it back so that he lands close to his body with a nearly vertical shin (I apologize for the ads that show up on the video, it’s not my video and I have no control over their ads):

The second clip shows Bolt jogging along a track during what appears to be a post-sprint cool-down. Gait is quite different, and he appears to now bring the heel down after landing on his forefoot, and in some cases he may be landing flat. However, he’s clearly not overstriding and mashing his heels into the ground just because he’s running slowly!

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    Neat comparison here. I think the clip of him jogging is after the race – you can see sponsors ads, Bolt giving a high-five, and right at the end he’s about to raise his arm above his head (presumably as a wave to the crowd). In my experience, after a race or a hard workout, jogging takes a much more efficient form as your body is “primed” to run more efficiently. I’d be really interested to see Bolt jogging before any harder running.

    • Steven Sashen says:

      Again, as a sprinter and as a guy who hangs out with sprinters (many world class), that’s what we look like when we run slowly. And not by accident or by some freak of genetics. It’s part of the training. In fact, the way you can tell who’s a sprinter and who is just a fast runner is whether they look like that when they’re warming up.

  2. Robert Osfield says:

    Nice to see the two videos of sprinting and jogging alongside each other.   A couple of observations:

    What is apparent for all the sprinters that the maximum extension forward and backward is in the air, with the time on stance a subset of the time that foot is moving backwards. 

    Ideally one would be able to slow the foot down completely on landing so no momentum is lost on landing, to achieve this one has to slow the foot down from 10m/s at the point of furthest extension to 0m/s by landing – this will require a heft deceleration of the foot and lower leg.  This is pawback, but it’s not an attempt at generating force on landing, instead it’s just done to avoid the foot contacting the ground with forward speed.

    The same applies to the foot on toe off, but going from 0m/s to 10m/s very quickly as the foot is pulled forward by the body and then swung up to the butt under it’s own momentum.

    How much is passive and active forces controlling these changes in velocity of the foot I can’t say.  What I would venture a guess at is the the faster one goes the smaller the subset of time and distance on stance relative to the full extension will need to be.

    One can see the opposite end of the spectrum with the jogging video – there is very little time in air where the foot is being slowed down for landing and very little time where the foot is being accelerated forward.  Here the range of extension pretty well matches the distance on stance.

    One thing that was surprised by with the two videos in the sprint all the runners aren’t noticeable moving up and down very much – they large seem to be just moving horizontally.  They will of course have a vertical oscillation but I’d guess that the cadence is so high that the oscillation is very small.  This contrasts to the jogging video where Usain looks to be bouncing along with a relatively large vertical component relative to the horizontal movement.

     I would guess this bouncy jogging gait is partly down to the much slower cadence, but also down to the relative stiffness of the lower leg which allow Usian to utilize a good amount of elastic recoil. 
    If he is about to sprint, or has just finished sprinting then I’d expect him to be primed for sprinting with the stiffness associated with it.

    I would expect a distance athlete to run with less stiffness, so the jogging gait would be less bouncy.  I would also wonder if a distance athlete might have a higher cadence at lower speeds than a sprinter.

  3. Dont B. Aknob says:

    TI see a couple different types of posts here.

    The first are of the my dick is bigger than your variety. Saying you can beat Bolt in any distance is simply pathetic. He is the best at what he does, you are not.

    The second are the he is perfect and I want to imulate what he does. Don’t bother, he is the best at what he does are you are not. His “slow jog” form is great when you are a sprinter doing a slow jog, but damn terrible if you want to run a 10K or more (Don’t even begin to think you can beat Usain Bolt in a 5K…if you think you might be able to, you can’t. You would know if you could.).

    While his foot lands in the proper place in the slow jog, his heal doesn’t come down enough to absorb much shock. Even worse he is springing up all over the place. There is so much wasted energy pushing his body up instead of forward! If you thing that looks good for distance running, be prepared for sore calves, injuries, and slow times.

    That being said, if you asked him to run a 10K, he would beat about 97% of people who run 10Ks regularly. I guarantee his form would naturally adjust to the speed and he would not be bouncing 4 or 5 inches skyward each step.

    • You fail to understand the physiology of running. The best 100-200 meter sprinters are at the very end of the bell curve for fast twitch muscle fibers – generally over 85%. Many even have lung capacities that are below average. (A recipe for disaster in a marathon and even much shorter distances). These people are genetic freaks built perfectly for one event at the expense of others. (Just like the fastest marathoners). Commenting on our ability to beat Bolt in a marathon does not take away or diminish his amazing talent. Rather, it just highlights his unique talent. I can run a 5K faster than a cheetah. that doesn’t mean I do not think it’s a fast and amazing animal.

    • packrats999 says:

      It should also be known that Bolt turned in an awesome power lap on Top Gear. He was the 8th fastest “star in a reasonably priced car” in the Chevrolet Lacetti. Bolt would probably beat 97% of the people who drive on a race track too, with no bouncing at all but a lot of tire squealing.

    • Dont B. Aknob says:

      On my tablet…deal with all those spelling/grammer errors! :)

    • Pete Larson says:

      I think you’re taking some of the posts here a bit to seriously.

  4. Steven Sashen says:

    So you know where I’m coming from when I comment: I’m a Masters All-American sprinter (12.0 100m and 7.79 60m at age 49). There’s a rumor going around that I might be the fastest Jew over 45 ;-) My coach is a former 400m world champion and current American record holder in the M35 400.
    1) All the mechanics you’re seeing are things my coach does as well… and things I’ve been working on all year.2) He’s actually not “reaching out with his lower leg.” I know this will sound like splitting hairs, but when you apply it, it’s night and day different: Reaching out leads to overstriding. Instead, the idea is to drive the knee down while staying relaxed (getting ready to apply force to the ground with an almost straight leg). So the knee angle opens because of the combination of momentum (from the leg swinging forward), relaxation, and “negative” knee drive. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist.3) When jogging, we (sprinters, that is), actually aim to land flat-footed (or, depending on the shoes, it can look like a heel strike), but with the foot under the center of mass. My coach (and his before him) actually criticized me for landing on my forefoot when I ran slowly! Their reasoning:a) Every movement, drill, and stride should simulate the “pop” off the ground that goes with sprinting. This comes as much from the rear leg driving forward as the support leg driving into the ground. If you watch Usain do “A-skips” for example, they would like like an exaggerated version of his slow running (and NOT like the A-skips you see most runners do).b) If you land on your heel or midfoot, you’ll KNOW if you’re overstriding, but if you land on your forefoot, you can forget that you are.c) When you land flat and try to “spring” you have to pre-load the calf/ankle. Another way of thinking of sprinting, especially at full speed, is that you’re trying to be a really stiff spring. You’ve already generated all the speed you’ll have, now you want to keep it by “bouncing” at the right angle. To practice being the stiffest spring you can be, seemingly paradoxically, landing on the ball of the foot when running slowly can impede that.

  5. Paul Henry says:

    Bassed on current form I still fancy my chances against Bolt in the longer distances… not sure where i would start to have the advantage but thats the beauty of running, theres a distance to suit everyone.

    • Andrea Relota says:

      I think your forgeting that he is the fastest man in the world

    • Pete Larson says:

      That’s an interesting question – where is the break point? I wonder how fast an elite sprinter could run a marathon with adequate training…
      Sent from my iPad

      • I imagine a person with upwards of 85% fast twitch muscle fibers could not run a particularly fast marathon. In addition, many have smallish lung capacities. I remember a NY Times article that listed the VO2Max of a particular American Olympic sprinter as somewhere in the mid-40′s. As a somewhat pedestrian 37 min 10K/3:15 marathoner I would bet that I could beat most of the athletes in this video in the marathon, half marathon, probably even a 10K and maybe 5K.

      • Steven Sashen says:

        I don’t know one elite sprinter who even finds the IDEA of running a marathon remotely interesting ;-)

      • packrats999 says:

        Seb Coe, while not a pure sprinter, ran a 2:56:20 marathon (1991) 10 years after his then WR of 1:41.73 at 800m (1981) and 5 years after his 3:29.77 PB at 1,500M (1986).

        • Robert Osfield says:

          Seb was a middle distance runner, which from my experience I would say has more in common with a distance runner than a sprinter.  I used to race 800m and 1500m and cross country as a kid, but I’m a hopeless sprinter.

          So scaling up to doing a sub 3hr marathon is nothing surprising, actually I kinda surprised he wasn’t faster than this.  I suspect that he didn’t train anywhere at the intensity for his marathon than he did in his prime at middle distance.

          • packrats999 says:

            Well yeah, Coe is obviously not a sprinter. However, it’s nearly impossible to find a pure sprinter (especially one who specializes in the 100/200) who has run a certified marathon.Since Coe has an official IAAF 400m PB of 46.87, he’s not too shabby of a long sprinter but not world class.I suppose if you want a better representative of an MD runner scaling up, Steve Cram ran 2:35:44 in London 2001. But Cram has no 400m PB on his IAAF CV. In that same race, Coe ran 2:58:00. 

            Carrying the conversation to it’s painful conclusion, the great Roger Black, 44:37 400m PB and Olympic and WC silver medalist in the 400m long sprint, ran 3:41:47 in the same 2001 London. Very ouch…

          • packrats999 says:

            One last comment. Perhaps the greatest range I can think of for any world class runner is Haile Gebrselassie. His 1,500m PB is 3:31.76 and marathon PB 2:03:59. Geb has also recorded a 1:49.35 800m.

            I would love to see if he could break 12.00 in the 100m but I bet he couldn’t.

          • Steven Sashen says:

            I train with a bunch of world class 1,500+ runners. I run a 12 second hundred. They can’t come anywhere near me.

  6. Kyle Schmidt says:

    I think that this is good evidence for barefoot/minimalist running. If the fastest (and very efficient) runner on the planet doesn’t heel strike, why should anybody?

  7. Robert Osfield says:

    Another aspect of the form of all these sprinters, including Usain, look to have is that they have pretty upright upper bodies once they have reached max speed.

    Curious Usain looks have more upper lean when jogging, however, the quality and angle of the jogging video is so poor is probably inappropriate to draw too many conclusions from this.

    However, it does rather look to me like Usain is upright when maxed out, and leaning when at a jog, which is rather opposite to what one might have presumed with how much fuss some form advocates make over lean…

    It does make me wonder if the lean when jogging is down to balance, or to compensate for lack in bend at the knee on landing – it looks to me that he’s bounding along using his calves to generate vertical force.  Might this just be a sprinters jogging gait, or perhaps a post race tuning of his muscles.  Either way his jogging gait doesn’t look like a form I’d like to see emulated by distance runners.

  8. Any recommendations on here for custom Custom Orthotics

    •  try running barefoot a few days a week and strengthen your feet and arches. good luck. also Born to Run can explain this very well and is a very interesting book

  9. Alstinbenton says:

    I think these videos are great… One thing I think most of us are failing to bring into light is the idea of what does usain bolt train in…. I must say I doubt he spends much time in a pair of 15oz 1 inch thick trainers… From my experience and observations it seems that most sprinters do their workouts in spikes. Have you ever tried to land on your hills in a pair of sprint spikes… You just don’t do it…. Just like your gait will change in a minimalist/barefoot form your form will change depending on what you train in… He probablly never landed on his heels just because of his footware… Then he got trained to be even more efficient and faster at it… In America we run in this thick shoes that allow us to land on our heel so we get used to this and then this proper sprinting form must be taught.

  10. Even the sprinters get down in the blocks and use forward leasn to accelerate.  After reaching full speed they continue to accelerate with every stride by the massive power of their hamstrings and buttocks.  Without accelleration when our foot is on the ground  stride gravity would slow anyone down to a stop.  I do not have power in my hamstrings or buttocks.  I am running slow and therefore can wait for gravity to pull me back to the ground when I push off with my quads.  Everyone has a different build and should figure out for themselves what is easiest.  With may build, if you put me in a vacuum with no gravity and I failed to lean forward, I would just fly straight up in the air.  Usain would still go forward without gravity if he pulled like he is doing during the race.  He is leaning forward during his jog because he is no longer pulling but running more by pushing.  Even the sprinters that look straight up have their center of gravity forward.  They are just pulling so hard their hips come equal with their chest. The best distance runners I have watched on TV appear to have a slight forward lean.  Perhaps distance runners should watch distance runners if they want to copy someone.

    • Usain Bolt would most likely fly even higher into the air than you if he tried running and the gravity was suddenly turned off. What separates elite sprinters from less advanced sprinters is the amount of clearance they have off the ground at before their foot makes contact. This allows them to have as much leg extension as possible which maximizes the amount of forward force generated when the foot makes contact. This is very hard to explain without a visual but trust me, the top of Bolt’s head is bouncing up and down around 12″ with each step.

  11. Interesting comparison. Seems the biggest differences are (1) the amount of push-off, and (2) the opening up of the thigh angle.

  12. Such a nice easy running gait that is. Very “springy”. I am wondering if the fact that he is running in spikes have anything to do with it.

  13. I don’t see the point of the videos. Usain Bolt is a special athlete. There has never been anyone like him. That alone sets his form apart from everyone else. Nobody taught him to run that way. He was taught how to put the most power into every stride. Yes he’s running a victory lap after finishing a Maximum effort. You can’t judge his “Running Form” after a Maximum Effort like that. You can’t judge his form at all, all you can do is marvel at it. 

    • Steven Sashen says:

      Actually, Dave, you’re 100% mistaken. He WAS taught to run that way, just like every other good sprinter was taught. A sprinting stride is not “natural” and nobody walks onto a track knowing how to do it. And, speaking as a guy who has been changing from a “normal” stride to a sprinting stride in the last year, it’s a teachable, learnable skill.

      • Andrea Relota says:

        Acutally no steven sashen your wrong, he was not taught that, dont be cockey just beacuse he is the fastest man in the world

    • Pete Larson says:

      You don’t see the point of watching a video of the best sprinter of all time??? And nobody’s “judging” his form, just observing what he does at max effort and when running easy.

  14. I ran 400m as did my father before me. I kind of sucked compared to him but then again he did couple of Olympics with decent results. The point is I can’t heel strike when running without trying really hard. First thing my coach/father taught me is proper running form and I have to thank him for that since I haven’t had a single leg injury in 30 years. I truly think there is true beauty and grace in good running form which should be the goal of every runner that is not paid to deliver the results. When your ultimate goal is improving your health then seconds are meaningless and form is everything. 

    • “…beauty and grace in good running form…”

      Something done right just looks right and natural and seems to make sense intuitively and visually. For example, I find the form of this Taharamura runner :
      link to chrismcdougall.com

      Just seem to make sense for endurance running. Notice that the load bearing front foot is just about below the  CoM, and there seem to be a smooth arc connecting the head and the trailing foot. Looks very natural to me.

      New to this blog, so apologies if this is a rehash.

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