Hello friends and countrymen-who-are-taking-a-brief-respite-from-grilling-brats-and-shooting-off-bottle-rockets. I’m not going to take a lot of your time today because you’re probably going to pay about as much attention as high school kid in health class on the last day of school, but there was a bit of interesting news last week I’d like to talk about.
Last week a paper came out that studied the stride of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. The data gathered is as extraordinary as it is obvious if you’ve been paying attention to my musings for any length of time.
What they found in their analysis is that the fastest sprinter in history has an asymmetrical gait!
This goes against everything that was assumed by sprint researchers about the characteristics that led to the best sprinters. In fact there was even a study a few years ago that concluded that knee length and position symmetry was a big factor in sprint speed.
Turns out there is actually a significant difference in how much force Bolt is able to transfer into the ground from left to right legs.
Now of course we can’t conclude that this is why Bolt is the fastest man on earth, because to do so we’d have to “teach” the other world class sprinters to run with this asymmetrical gait and see if they can become faster.
But what we can learn is that not only is asymmetry something acceptable that we should tolerate, but it is in fact perfectly fine and isn’t going to stop you from being the fastest man on earth.
What’s that? You say you remember reading an article about Bolt dealing with back pain?
Indeed, Bolt has experienced back pain over his career due at least in part to scoliosis. But to this point I will note a few things. How many thirty-year-olds do you know that don’t experience some back pain? How many athletes do you know that don’t experience some back pain? Did you know that no matter how hard they look researchers are unable to link asymmetry to back pain, or frankly any pain for that matter?
What I would argue, and now we’re just getting into speculation but this is my email so I’ll indulge, is that Bolt is so damn fast not in spite of but because of these unique characteristics. I think the scoliosis allows him to naturally generate force axially, rotating horizontally, which enables him to generate more force using more tissue of the body that he can then drive iinto the ground. All else being equal if you have a “machine” that can only generate force in linear planes back and forth (think the hips moving into flexion and extension) and you have another “machine” that not only can move in that plane but also can rotate in the middle and snap into position to whip more force into that extension or flexion – the latter is going to be more powerful.
A 4th of July boating analogy is in order. If you’ve ever been tubing or water skiing you know that your speed is limited to the speed of the boat when you’re being towed straight behind it. But if the wild yahoo of a driver takes a hard turn, you get whipped out to the side and you can double or triple your speed – even overtaking the boat before losing momentum.
Ultimately, the key to maximizing the natural asymmetry you’ve been born with or have developed over time is to accept it, work with it, and use it to your advantage whenever possible. Of course biofeedback is the best way I’ve found to do that, which is precisely why I teach it in my books and coaching.