Longer toes may give sprinters a leg up on other runners, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

Sabrina Lee, a post doctoral fellow at SFU, and colleague Stephen Piazza found that longer toes and a unique ankle structure give sprinters a “burst of acceleration” over others.

The pair studied the muscle architecture of the feet and ankles of 12 collegiate sprinters and 12 non-athletes. Using toe measurements and ultrasound imaging, they found that the distance between the Achilles tendon and the centre of rotation of the ankle were much shorter in sprinters.

They developed a simple computer model to see how much acceleration they could generate when the tendon lever arm and toe lengths were changed.

“We found the greatest acceleration occurred when the Achilles tendon lever arm is the shortest and the toes are longest,” said Lee.

The findings are only one explanation for determining a good sprinter, Lee added. It’s still unclear what effect training can have on influencing the shape of foot bones.

The study, Built for Speed: Musculoskeletal Structure and Sprinting Ability, appears in the current Journal of Experimental Biology. metro vancouver

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