Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Things I Don’t Understand About Speed

with one comment

1. Why is it that all the Olympian sprinters are jacked, while it seems that the fastest people at frisbee are skinny?

2. I recently read The Sports Gene. A great book that explores which parts of sports success come from genes and innate ability, which from training, and which from odd interactions of the two like genes which make training more effective. For sprint speed, the book generally comes down on the side of genes- success is about the amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers you are born with, backing up the old saying that “you can’t teach speed.” But while the book gave many answers, it left me with more questions. After all, it can’t literally be true that there is zero benefit to sprint training- or else why does anyone do it? I still have no idea how much speed a sprint training program would add. Would it cut 1 100th of a second of a 100-meter dash? One tenth? One full second? How different would the results be for someone who spent a year being moderately active, vs one who spent a year sitting on a couch? How different would the results be for people with different levels of “innate” ability, for instance different proportions of fast-twitch muscle fiber?

3. Have you ever run a timed 40-yd dash? Have you ever looked at NFL combine results? When I did, they blew my mind. I never thought I could keep up with NFL running backs or wide receivers, but I did think I could outrun a 330-pound offensive lineman. Not so, apparently- almost all of them can run a 40-yd dash in under 5.5 seconds.

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Written by James Bailey

October 26, 2014 at 1:40 pm

One Response

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  1. Here are my thoughts, which are 80% unsubstantiated.

    1. Because fast people in ultimate are significantly slower than high-level sprinters, and if they lifted weights and put on more muscle, they would get faster. If you look at more competitive ultimate, I think you’ll still find that the fastest people are muscular. Also–and this is crucial–make sure that in your thinking you are adequately accounting for the difference between acceleration and top speed, both of which are important in both ultimate and in competitive sprinting but in differing proportions.
    2. Spit-balling here, but training–weight lifting, improved running form, and improved reactions out of the blocks–could probably improve someone’s 100m dash on the order of 1-1.5 seconds if they’re already in good shape and accustomed to sprinting at times. I think that training would have the most impact on acceleration and a lesser impact on top velocity.
    3. I’m surprised that you’re surprised by this, but I am also surprised by the 5.5s number; I would’ve thought more in the range of sub 5.0 for NFL linemen. Also, returning to our earlier theme, 40-yd dash numbers are almost purely a measure of acceleration (and reaction time and form but not “speed”). I consider myself on the faster side of ultimate players, all because of top speed, so my 40 would be pretty abysmal.

    Nik Renshaw

    October 26, 2014 at 10:28 pm


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