Born to Run? MRI scans reveal sprinters have different bone structure from the rest of us

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Sprinters aren’t just faster than the rest of us. Their bones are actually different from non-athletes.

Competitive sprinters have significantly different bone structure, with changes that make them run faster.

The finding could lead to tests to see if someone has the potential to be a competitive sprinter.

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging on the feet of competitive sprinters with at least three years sprint training. They found that they had significantly longer bones in their forefeet – 6.2 per cent bigger than non-sprinters.

Their Achilles tendons were also different – with tendon lever arms 12 per cent shorter than non-sprinters.

It’s unclear whether the training changes the foot, or whether some people are ‘born to run’.

But the changes deliver a clear advantage – allowing people with ‘sprinter feet’ to generate greater force over a longer time while running.

‘We made the most direct measurement possible of leverage in the Achilles tendon and found that sprinters’ tendons had shorter lever arms — or reduced leverage for pushing their bodies off of the ground — compared to non-sprinters,’ saidStephen Piazza, associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University.

Josh Baxter, graduate student, shorter Achilles tendon lever arms and longer toe bones permit sprinters to generate greater contact force between the foot and the ground and to maintain that force for a longer time, thus providing advantages to people with sprinter-like feet.

To conduct their research, the scientists studied two groups of eight males, for a total of 16 people.

The first group was composed of sprinters who were involved in regular sprint training and competition.

The second group consisted of height-matched individuals who never had trained or competed in sprinting.

To be included in the sprinter group, individuals were required to currently be engaged in competitive sprinting and have at least three years of continuous sprint training.


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