The dictionary definition of sprinting is: ‘running at full speed over a short distance (400m or less), but from a biomechanical and coaching perspective sprinting is more than just ‘fast running’. Sprinting is a distinct biomechanical behaviour from running and is adopted at speeds over 15-16mph (7m/s). The typical characteristics of a ‘sprint’ are: stride rate higher than 4 hz; ground contact time less than 150ms and; a distinct forefoot-strike pattern. These biomechanical changes in running technique are an attempt by the body to create a ‘stiffer spring’ to deal with the increased forces associated with faster speeds.

The reactive strength required in the lower extremity, hips and postural muscles to use this movement strategy and avoid injury is beyond the physical capabilities of the average recreational runner. Coaching in the technical and conditioning aspects of sprinting is strongly advised.

The key features required in a ‘sprinting shoe’ are:

  • Anatomical toe box (wide, flat and foot-shaped). The role of the toe flexors, extensors and intrinsic foot muscles is the same as in running, but they are required to perform this function with greater force and over a shorter period of time.

  • Lightweight and stiff. The lower leg must act as a ‘stiff spring’ during sprinting, achieved by minimising movement at the ankle and foot joints. Flexible and/or cushioned footwear increases the demand on the muscles of the lower leg as they attempt to ‘stiffen’ the joints.

  • Maximum traction. Ground contact time and traction are inversely related. There is intelligent biomechanical reasoning behind the design of ‘running spikes’.


  • The biomechanics of human locomotion can be explained by the physics of pendulums and springs. Humans have essentially four locomotive strategies available: walking, jogging, running, sprinting.

  • These locomotive strategies become progressively less pendulum like and more spring like as speed and gravitational loading increase and contact time decreases (see diagram).
  • Each locomotive strategy has energetic and biomechanical consequences i.e. metabolic cost and risk of injury.
  • Skillful human movement is characterised by adopting the locomotive strategy for a given speed and terrain that maximises economy while minimising injury risk.
  • Movement strategy selection is influenced by several factors including habit, conditioning and accurate sensory feedback about the external environment.


Perry J. Gait Analysis: Normal and Pathological Function. SLACK inc (1992)

Kuo AD et al. Energetic consequences of walking like an Inverted pendulum: step-to-step transitions. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews (2005)

Doke J et al. Mechanics and energetics of swinging the human leg. The Journal of Experimental Biology (2005)

Hughes J et al. The Importance of the toes in walking. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (1990)

Lambrinudi C. Use and abuse of toes. Post Graduate Medical Journal (1932)

Bowerman WJ. Jogging. Corgi (1967)

Cavanagh PR . Ed. The Biomechanics of Distance Running. Human Kinetics (1990)

Bosch F, Klomp R. Running: Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology Applied in Practice. Elsevier (2005)

De Almeida MO et al. Is the rearfoot pattern the most frequent foot strike pattern among recreational shod distance runners? Physical Therapy in Sport (2015)

Pink M et al. Lower extremity range of motion in the recreational sport runner.

The American Journal of Sports Medicine (1994)

Mei Q et al. Investigating biomechanical function of toes through external manipulation integrating analysis. Acta of Bioengineering and Biomechanics (2015)

Cavanagh PR et al. Pressure Distribution under symptom-free feet during barefoot standing. Foot & Ankle (1987)

Drewes LK et al. Dorsiflexion deficit during jogging with chronic ankle instability. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2008)

Jahss MH et al. Investigations into the Fat Pads of the Sole of the Foot: Anatomy and Histology. Foot & Ankle (1992)  

Jahss MH et al. Investigations into the Fat Pads of the Sole of the Foot: Heel Pressure Studies. Foot & Ankle (1992)

Ozdemir H et al. Effects of changes in heel fat pad thickness and elasticity on heel pain. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association (2004)

Mann RA, Hagy JL. Biomechanics of walking, running and sprinting. The American Journal of Sports Medicine (1980)

Mann RA, Hagy JL. The Function of the toes in walking, jogging and running. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (1979)

Novachek TF. The biomechanics of running. Gait and Posture (1998)

Kyrolainen H et al. Changes in muscle activity with increasing running speed. Journal of Sports Sciences (2005)

Nummela AT, Keranen T. Factors Related to top running speed and economy. International Journal of Sports Medicine (2007)

Dorn TW et al. Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance. The Journal of Experimental Biology (2012)

Bushnell T, Hunter I. Differences in technique between sprinters and distance runners at equal and maximal speeds. Sports Biomechanics (2007)

Korhonen MT et al. Age-related differences in 100m sprint performance in male and female master runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (2003)

Wilkinson et al Feet and footwear: applying biological design and mismatch theory to running injuries. International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine (2018)