Copyright 1997-2007  American Society of Exercise Physiologists. All Rights Reserved.



March 2007
Vol. 11 No. 3   
 Editor: Dr. Lonnie Lowery

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                  This month:
"Developing Running Speed"

Mike, J.

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Editorial: An Exercise Physiologists Perspective of Physical Education in America

Don Diboll, PhD, FASEP, EPC

Those reading this may ask why an editorial in a newsletter for the profession of exercise physiology would address physical education. As a university faculty member that teaches both future physical educators as well as those who will practice exercise physiology, I have come to learn what physical education should be and how it can positively impact the wellbeing of our young people and future adult citizens of our society. A question I find myself asking is should we as exercise physiologists truly care about physical education? I believe the answer is yes.

If we, as professionals associated with allied health care, truly are concerned for the wellbeing of our society, then we must recognize the role of quality physical education in our schools as the frontline defense against many of the fitness-related health problems our society faces, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The exercise physiology profession has its place in combating these problems, but it is not the sole answer, nor is any other profession in health care. Too often, health care is called into action
after these problems already exist. Public education is about developing the entire person to be quality, productive citizens. This includes the physical dimension of the person. Being a productive citizen, I believe, requires individuals to be responsible for their physical wellbeing and not reliant on health care to fix them after they have lost it.

Quality physical education does not mean roll out the ball and supervise the children as they play, nor does it mean running laps and performing sit-ups for fitness; both of which may be the experiences that many of us had in our kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education. Physical education the right way is about developing fundamental motor skills; learning a variety of activities that promote the desire for life-long physical activity; and the development of health-related fitness through learning about ones body, how to assess ones own fitness, and how to improve and maintain it. I doubt rational people disagree that these things are important, but how these objectives are to be achieved is not given the serious attention that is required. One only has to look at the level of priority physical education is given in the majority of public schools. Emphasis is given to other subjects deemed essential (e.g., math, English, science), while physical education is minimized. This can be seen in the relative amount of instructional time allocated to physical education compared to other subjects, the interpretation by some schools as to what constitutes quality physical education curriculum (including what is considered suitable substitutions for physical education), and the very limited coursework given to physical education in the higher education curriculum for future elementary school teachers (the elementary school level is where physical education is arguably most important).

How should we as exercise physiologists relate to all of this? We, as educated individuals who understand the ramifications of fitness on overall health and wellbeing, should be aware of and, where possible, take action on legislation and policies that affect physical education in our schools. This can happen at the local school level through school board meetings and parent-teacher associations. We should become aware of what is going on in our local schools, especially if we have children of our own within them. We should think of ways we might be able to contribute with our expertise toward some aspect of physical education, even if it is only in one classroom.

Next, those of us who are university instructors can encourage those preparing to be future physical educators to take their academic preparation seriously and to become advocates of their profession that is truly vital to our K-12 system. Physical education should not be an academic program for those wanting an easy degree, a coaching career only, or a fun job with summers off. We can also reflect on what these future teachers should really learn from physiology of exercise or other courses we teach. We must be honest and practical when considering what knowledge and skills these individuals will really need to be quality physical educators. We should talk to our peers who specialize in physical education pedagogy to learn more about the other areas of physical education curriculum that we are not knowledgeable in. We should also look at standards from our respective states and other relevant organizations (e.g., National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE]) that indicate what a quality physical educator should know and be able to do with respect to the content areas we teach.

Quality physical education is important to overall education and to the good of our society. Physical educators (the good ones) are worthy of our admiration and support. This profession and these professionals deserve the same level of respect that we, as exercise physiologists, desire for ourselves. From the perspective of health and physical wellbeing, we are allies in the fight against the fitness and health problems facing our country.

Ask the EP: Your Inside Scoop on Tough Questions

Note: Ask the Exercise Physiologist (EP)" is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be taken as healthcare advice. Please do not submit questions of a personal nature (e.g. fitness programs, nutrition advice solicitation, etc.) Thanks.

Q.) Can you differentiate between stride length and stride frequency? What methods are used to further develop running speed for each?  

A.) Answer: Both Stride Length and Stride Frequency are very factors involved in running speed. Increasing one or both will result in increased speed. However, they are interrelated in such a way that increasing one often results in the reduction of the other. For example, in an effort to increase stride length, an athlete may reach too far forward with the lower leg, resulting in over-striding. This decreases stride frequency, which results in a lower running speed.

Stride frequency is measured by the number of strides taken in a given amount of time or over a given distance. By using good sprinting technique, stride frequency can be increased without sacrificing stride length. Increasing stride frequency is important because the athlete can only produce locomotive energy when his or her feet are in contact with the ground. The more contact with the ground, the faster the potential running speed. This idea must be balanced with the fact that large amounts of force and power are necessary during the limited ground contact time in each stride. Modern sprint technique effectively maximizes this combination.

Sprint-assisted training is one technique that can be used to improve stride frequency. Assisted sprinting will allow athletes to develop the feel of running at a faster velocity than they would be capable of running normally. This added feature of supra-maximal speed enables athletes to improve their running mechanics at a faster rate than would be possible unassisted. By not having to run all-out but still being able to achieve a speed that is at or slightly above their unassisted best, athletes can learn to relax more easily at high speed. Some of the traditional assisted methods of training include downhill running and towing.

While stride frequency is calculated in terms of the number of steps taken per minute, stride length is the distance covered--measured from the center of mass--in one stride during running. Research has shown that optimal stride length at maximum speed is normally 2.3 to 2.5 times the athletes leg length. A common mistake made by many young athletes is to try to take strides that are too long in an effort to attain or maintain top speed. When this happens, they have a tendency to overstride and ultimately slow themselves down because of decreased efficiency in force production. Most athletes develop their optimal stride length as proper technique and strength/power improvements.

Stride length can be enhanced by improving sprint mechanics and the athletes power, absolute strength, and elastic strength through numerous forms of training. These include strength training; the use of weighted pants, weighted vests, running chutes, and harnesses; and uphill running. One must be careful not to get too carried away with these different resisted methods of training. Overuse of these methods can adversely affect running technique, thereby undermining the overall process of speed development.

-Jonathan Mike, MS, CSCS


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