elitefts™ Sunday Edition

The title of being the world’s fastest human being is an incredible feat and an accomplishment any athlete would dream of attaining. I’m sure Usain Bolt deserves the title without question in regards to his Olympic record; however, to place his feat on par with recognizing it as being the world’s fastest would be somewhat of a misstatement of fact.

It is true that Usain Bolt’s Olympic record is remarkable by our standards, but it’s only one means by which we can measure human achievement. If we think of those who ran for their survival tens of thousands of years before the first Olympic competition ever took place, that would perhaps drastically change the discussion, and put human performance on a much more fair and equal playing field.

Speed simply doesn’t render the question of who is the world’s fastest man. In fact, the real question should be, “who are the world’s quickest men?” As a researcher, I’ve been openly disheartened by how much attention Bolt receives at times. While we like to worship physical accomplishment in our culture, once again, the bigger picture tells a different tale.

Bolt’s sprinting abilities and record of speed is an anomaly in our shoe-wearing culture, not the norm. That distinction is thus a vital reflection for anyone who seeks such levels of performance. In the context of discussing the skill of running, it is far more important to ask which culture attains the fastest speed on average, rather than merely looking at one example of an extreme athlete.

So, in fairness to opening the discussion of speed mechanics, one needs to include the superior running skills of early humans. Not only were they stated to be as fast as Bolt, but they also ran against completely different elements and factors of competition. Running was done without cleats and without custom-made running track beneath their feet. Top speeds were the same, but the environments weren’t. That distinction, in my world, sets them apart from Bolt.

Rather than stare at a television set to watch runners, I prefer to examine fossil records. And for those in pursuit of improving their sprinting skill, this is a far worthier direction from which to discuss and learn. How can any athlete improve himself unless he is willing to seek different ways to measure himself besides watching those who run today?

The story of early human running skills all starts in a place called Mungo National Park located in Australia. What so few know about this sacred ground of the indigenous people of that continent is that this ignored park tells the real story of our factual history of biomechanics and helps define the difference between running without shoes and truly running with our ancient barefoot skills.

One of the most notable differences between our running skills and that of the Aborigines is the fact that they don’t run in parallel leg swing like we do. They walk in parallel leg swing; however, at peak speed, their gait completely alters. As you can see in the photo, each foot is landing perfectly in front of each other. I refer to the technique as an inline, or centerline thrust landing pattern.

Also of note in this picture is what fossil records show to be a clear heel strike-landing pattern, a much more efficient use of tendon elasticity than the mid-foot or forefoot landing technique used by most modern athletes today.

So, why do runners and athletes have yet to adopt this heel strike-landing technique?

Most of the reasoning behind our current running style stems from the fact that we have evolved into that of shoe-wearing athletes, and this, in turn, has slowly erased the biomechanical memory and skill we once possessed.

Adding to this is the unfortunate occurrence of unknown or misinformation about Aboriginal runners. For instance, author Steve Webb’s translation of peak running speed for the Aborigines runners is somewhat flawed in terms of his calculations. While some argue that the runners weren’t as fast as he postulates, on the contrary, I have found that his calculations were too slow. (See journal article below).

Given that schools or researchers haven’t reproduced the inline technique or explain its efficiencies, Webb had no choice but to apply an inaccurate formula for his speed calculations. Additionally, since the majority of our culture utilizes a shoe-based running technique, known as our parallel leg swing, running technique research is usually only conducted with this style in mind. Therefore, in no way did his calculations accurately reflect the Aborigines peak speed achievements.

Unfortunately, if Webb had applied far more accurate calculations by utilizing models of centerline thrust, he would have concluded much higher speeds as a result. What is so remarkable, though, is that even without reflecting their true speed achievements, Webb was still able to estimate near-Bolt running speeds from his measurements.

For me, the factual disconnect is that nowhere in his paper does he acknowledge the gait alteration from a parallel leg swing in walking technique and the implementation of centerline thrust mechanics at full sprint.

 If you’ve made the effort to transition the masking tape exercise principles into your walking, what I hope to instill is the idea that you’re learning the biomechanical alterations necessary to extrapolate the walking technique into much faster running speeds.

The science needed to reach Bolt-level speeds isn’t out of reach. Even if you don’t make the choice to devote your life to running more than a mere 100 meters, any athlete can improve if they’re willing to follow the step-by-step guide left by our early ancestors so long ago.

Early humans “explained”



Steve Webb's Journal Article: