Study Says Athletes’ Speed Comes From Center of Gravity

Athletic success comes from more than just training and body type. According to The New York Times, a new study from Duke University and Howard University found that the key to speed is an athlete’s center of gravity. Wikipedia defines a person’s center of gravity is the mean location of the gravitational force acting on a body.

This may be why the fastest sprinters are usually black, while the fastest swimmers are usually white. It’s not about race – it’s about biology. Researchers say that blacks have a 3% higher center of gravity than whites, due to having longer limbs with smaller circumferences. Asians and whites have lower centers of gravity, due to their longer torsos.  As a result, black sprinters are 1.5% faster than white sprinters. The difference in centers of gravity has the opposite effect for swimming. Asians actually have an advantage over whites in the pool, but that benefit is canceled out by the fact that white swimmers are usually taller.

Center of gravity may also one of many factors in male versus female athletic performance. A woman’s center of gravity tends to be lower because women carry more weight in the pelvis area and thighs compared to men.

“Locomotion is essentially a continual process of falling forward,” explained Adrian Bejan, a co-author of the study and a professor of engineering at Duke. “Mass that falls from a higher altitude falls faster. In running, the altitude is set by the location of the center of gravity. For the fastest swimmers, longer torsos allow the body to fall forward farther, riding the larger and faster wave.”

But the authors admitted than the environment also plays a role in athletic speed and success. Edward Jones, a co-author from Howard University, said that as a black child growing up in South Carolina, he was discouraged from swimming. ”There wasn’t nearly as much encouragement for us as young people to swim as there was for playing football or basketball. With the right encouragement, this doesn’t always have to be the case — just look at the Williams sisters in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf.”

Some exercises, like Kettlebells, work by challenging your center of gravity. From WebMD: ”The reason the kettlebell is so great is that there’s offset center of gravity,” explains Laura Alton, a certified trainer, physical therapist, and Russian kettlebells certified instructor at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas. That means your body has to work harder to maintain balance. In so doing, you work many different muscle groups – and get your heart rate up at the same time.

Photo: Katu


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