SMU Researchers: Usain Bolt’s Gait is Asymmetrical

The researchers assessed Bolt's running using a new motion-based method to test how hard and fast each foot hits the ground.


When it comes to running, nobody does it faster than Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic champion and triple world record holder.

The lanky Jamaican sprinter is known for his explosive acceleration down the track and the famous images of him looking back as he leaves his competitors in his wake.

You’d think Bolt’s powerful legs work as a symmetrical team propelling him at great speed toward the finish line, but according to researchers at Southern Methodist University, Bolt’s gait may, in fact, be asymmetrical.

SMU researchers examined the running mechanics of Bolt, who is considered the world’s fastest man.

“The manner in which Bolt achieves his impulses seems to vary from leg to leg.”

The analysis, so far, suggests that his mechanics may vary from his right leg to his left, according to Andrew Udofa, a biometrics researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory.

According to a blog on SMU Research News, most running experts assume that asymmetry impairs performance and slows a runner down. This unexpected asymmetry in Bolt’s mechanics could help scientist better understand the basis of maximal running speeds, according to the university.

“Our observations raise the immediate scientific question of whether a lack of symmetry represents a personal mechanical optimization that makes Bolt the fastest sprinter ever or exists for reasons yet to be identified,” Udofa, a research team member, said in the blog.

The SMU Locomotor Performance Lab focuses on the mechanical basis of human performance, and is led by Peter Weyand, Glenn Simmons Endowed Professor in Applied Physiology & Biomechanics at SMU.

Researchers didn’t test Bolt in the lab at SMU, but rather they used a new motion-based method to assess the patterns of ground-force application. That’s how hard and fast each foot hits the ground, and researchers measured the “impulse” of each foot.

“The manner in which Bolt achieves his impulses seems to vary from leg to leg,” Udofa said. “Both the timing and the magnitude of force application differed between legs in the steps we have analyzed so far.”

Udofa presented the findings in a presentation “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” delivered June 18 at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany.


Click on the image below to watch SMU’s video:


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