All sprinters should start with their right foot in the rear kick-off position on the starting block. Doing so will give them an advantage of about 80ms compared with starting with their left foot in that position. That's according to Adam Eikenberry and colleagues who say the effect of foot position on starting time has to do with differences in the workings of the left and right brain hemispheres.
Ten experienced and ten novice sprinters were timed as they repeatedly launched into a sprint with either their left or right foot in the rear position on the starting block. The rear foot is the one responsible for driving the sprinter forwards. Regardless of the sprinters' favoured foot positioning, or their general 'footedness', two key findings emerged.
When the left foot was in the rear position, the sprinters tended to respond more quickly to the starting signal, with an average reaction time advantage of about 26 ms. This was judged according to when the force of their foot on the starting block first began to decrease. The researchers said this advantage probably reflects the fact that the right hemisphere, which is largely responsible for control of the left foot, has a more specialised role in attention than the left hemisphere.
However, when the right foot was in the rear position, the actual movement of the sprinters off the block was faster by an average of 104 ms. This 'movement time' was measured from the moment that the sprinter's foot started moving (the instant of reaction) to the moment it was completely clear from the block. The researchers said this movement advantage reflects the left hemisphere's (controlling the right foot) specialisation in movement execution relative to the right hemisphere.
Overall, these effects meant there was approximately an 80 ms advantage on average to starting with the right foot in the rear position. "The right foot rear response time advantage found in the present study suggests that teachers and coaches in these events should emphasise a right foot rear stance for their athletes," the researchers said.
EIKENBERRY, A. (2008). Starting with the right foot minimizes sprint start time. Acta Psychologica, 127(2), 495-500. DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2007.09.002
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.